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Louisiana K-12 Schools Report Nearly 7K Cases Less Than 1 Month Into School Year

 Students at Red River Elementary in Coushatta, Louisiana work on a reading comprehension exercise. June 8, 2021.
Students at Red River Elementary in Coushatta, Louisiana work on a reading comprehension exercise. June 8, 2021.

More than 6,100 students and 830 employees across Louisiana’s K-12 schools have tested positive for the coronavirus less than one month into the new school year, according to data released Wednesday.

Nearly 2,100 students and 350 employees from more than 520 schools tested positive for the coronavirus the week of Aug. 9, the first week of the school year in many districts. The following week, more than 4,000 students and 480 employees across 785 schools tested positive.

Fifty-nine parishes have reported at least one confirmed COVID-19 case for the 2021-22 school year. Five parishes — West Feliciana, Catahoula, Webster, East Carroll and Lincoln — had not reported a single positive case as of Aug. 22.

So far, the greatest number of COVID cases associated with K-12 schools has been reported in the New Orleans area. That includes Jefferson Parish Public Schools, the state’s largest public school district, which reported 555 cases since the start of the school year.

Orleans Parish has reported the highest number of cases, 732, as of Aug. 22. St. Tammany Parish had the second highest count with 698 students and employees testing positive for the coronavirus.

In LDH’s Region 2, which comprises metro Baton Rouge school districts, Ascension Parish had 364 students and staff test positive for coronavirus as of Aug. 22. East Baton Rouge Parish trailed behind with 310 cases.

Louisiana schools reopened at the same time COVID cases surged, driven by the more transmissible delta variant which has had a growing impact on children. Statewide, 6,146 cases among children 17 and younger were reported this week.

A child under the age of 1 died from COVID on Wednesday, officials confirmed, marking the second pediatric COVID death in August.

Those under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive any of the three federally authorized COVID-19 vaccines and are unlikely to gain eligibility before the end of the year.

Positive cases also have led to widespread quarantines. About 9 percent of the New Orleans public school students and staff were in quarantine as of Aug. 20. NOLA-PS chief operations officer Tiffany Delcour told reporters Monday that based on the level of community spread in New Orleans, the district expects its quarantine count to grow before it starts to shrink.

Three public schools in New Orleans have temporarily pivoted to online instruction this year due to quarantine related operational challenges, and other districts in the region have been forced to take similar steps.

Parents who want to remove their child from in-person learning until cases decline, have been left with few options. Only some districts in Louisiana still offer the option of virtual learning sans a medical accommodation, and in most cases, it is only for high school students.

The state’s virtual charter academy is full, and many for-profit programs have placed families on waiting lists. Homeschooling applications are up statewide and had already surpassed 15,500 by the end of July, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

Louisiana’s school board and individual districts have stood by their decision to keep in-person learning, stating its benefits outweigh the public health risks, as long as safety measures are followed.

Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio. To see more, visit WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio.