Emanuel County teacher on ventilator after testing positive for COVID-19 a few days after start of school


EMANUEL COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – An Emanuel County teacher is fighting for her life on a ventilator in an Augusta hospital after getting COVID-19.

Shonray Brooks started the school year like many other teachers ready to educate in person despite a pandemic. But shortly after assembling, her fears came true.

Shonray Brooks

Brooks has always shared her excitement about the first day of school. But her sister Shonte Smith said the coronavirus pandemic clouded that joy this time around.

“She was concerned about going to school and being exposed. She didn’t want to go back,” Smith said.

The 7th grade Swainsboro Middle School English teacher, who has been in the industry for 14 years, returned to the classroom August 3, as planned by Emanuel County School leaders.

“She’s the teacher at night that cooks grits in the Crock-Pot to bring to her students so they can eat before a test,” her sister recalled adding that she also enjoys baking cakes from scratch.

That type of dedication shown to students is now being redirected to saving her own life. Smith said a few days after school started her sister became ill with headaches, nausea, chills and overall weakness. She later tested positive for COVID-19.

Left, Shonray Brooks and her sister, Shonte Smith is on the right.

“I had someone take her some Gatorade and soups to put on her doorstep. She said ‘Tae Tae thank you so much, but I was so tired I could only get them off the porch and place them by the door. I couldn’t take them any further.’ She said ‘then I had to sit on the sofa and just get some strength to even get back in the room.’ She said ‘I’m in the bed now.'”

Smith said her sister is now on a ventilator and she blames the ordeal on the failure of Emanuel County Schools to share COVID numbers at first. NewsChannel 6 found coronavirus numbers for all schools online now and the district’s reopening guidelines.

We reached out to Emanuel County School Board Members and Superintendent Kevin Judy replied, answering several NewsChannel 6 questions about COVID-19 and the district.

  1. Why was the decision made to hold face to face instruction during the pandemic, starting August 3? 

The Emanuel County School District believes that in-person instruction is best for student learning while acknowledging that the threat of COVID-19 has challenged our ability to provide face to face instruction as our sole method for teaching children. We understand that anything less than a full-time, in-person school schedule strains many of our parents who have to go to work and cannot be home with their children. We also recognize that because of medically fragile students, at-risk family members, or other issues, some families may not be comfortable returning to a traditional classroom until a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely available, or risk of COVID-19 diminishes.

2) What methods were put in place to ensure that the spread of COVID would be prevented in schools?

Emanuel County Schools has adopted the following guidelines to reopen our schools based on the latest CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health, and the Georgia Department of Education recommendations:

  • All students and employees must stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms, tested positive for COVID-19, or had close contact with a person with COVID-19 within a 14-day window. Employees and parents/guardians are asked to self-report to the school nurse. A written physician’s release will be required for return. Quarantined students will have access to their education through a variety of methods.
  • Temperature checks will be required of all personnel and students before entering the school environment. Students and employees with COVID-19 symptoms or a temperature of 100 and above will be immediately isolated, required to wear a mask, and sent home. Local health officials will be notified immediately for guidance on the next steps.
  • Employees are encouraged to wear masks when social distancing is not possible – for example, helping a student with an assignment at their desk. Students are not required – but are encouraged – to wear a mask, especially in common areas such as hallways and bathrooms. Counselors and administrators will support mask-wearing efforts at each school. Students who ride school buses are required to wear masks. The school nor district will provide mask.
  • The school nurse will be the school’s main COVID-19 point of contact.
  • Frequent hand washing breaks will take place daily in all elementary schools, where students will be required to wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds. Middle and high school students and employees will be reminded to wash their hands throughout the day for the same length of time.
  • All will be reminded to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, place the tissue in the trash, and immediately wash their hands.
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout each building. Locations include hallways, lunchroom, media center, office areas, etc. Students and staff are also encouraged to bring hand sanitizer from home.
  • To promote COVID-19 protective measures, signs will be posted in highly visible locations, and schools will broadcast daily messages.
  • Schools and departments will develop a schedule for increased cleaning and disinfection. The custodial staff has been trained on the safe and correct application of all disinfectants. Frequently touched surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected throughout the day (door handles, sink handles, light switches, etc.)
  • Ventilation systems will be monitored regularly to ensure proper operation and increased circulation of outdoor air as much as possible.
  • Based upon classroom configuration and to the extent possible, student desks will face in the same direction, and students seated at tables will sit on the same side. Excess furniture will be removed from classrooms to allow teachers more room to separate students.
  • The sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect will be discouraged.
  • Schools will promote social distancing when feasible and consider practices for transitioning, such as lanes for travel, throughout the school. Additional time for transitions, designate flow paths to minimize student congregation, stagger class movement to reduce the number of students in a hallway at the same time is just a few of these measures.
  • Non-essential student movement throughout the school day will be limited.
  • Outdoor recess will be continued, but the number of students gathered in one area will be limited. Some playground equipment that cannot be sanitized may be prohibited for student use.
  • While ensuring the safety of children, to the extent possible, students will eat in classrooms, lunchrooms, and outside. This will allow students to be spread out during their lunchtime.
  • Traditional water fountains will be closed; water fill stations will be open. Students and staff are encouraged to bring plastic water bottles from home (no carbonated or sugar drinks allowed).
  • In place of field trips, assemblies, special performances, and school-wide meetings or events, including open house and curriculum nights, virtual activities will be pursued.
  • No parent walk-up for dismissal. All afternoon car dismissals must stay in the car line.
  • Non-essential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations will be limited.
  • Parent/guardian teacher conferences will be held virtually, when possible.
  • Guidance from the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) will be followed for school athletics.
  • Transportation of Students on Buses:
    • We encourage all parents that can transport their children to and from school to please do so. This will minimize the number of riders we have on a bus route.
    • Students are required to wear a mask while riding the bus. Students will not be allowed on the school bus without a mask covering their nose and mouth. The school nor district will provide mask.
    • Students will be asked to keep their hands to themselves and face forward throughout the trip to school and home. Parents need to encourage this of their children.
    • All buses will be deep cleaned before the school year starts.
    • Every bus will be equipped with disinfectant and will be disinfected after each route.
    • Each bus will have hand sanitizer stations located at the entrance for students to use as they enter and leave the bus.
    • Although many buses have air conditioning, drivers will partially open select windows of all buses to allow free flow of fresh air.
    • The bus driver will utilize spaced seating (to extent practicable).
    • Students will be loaded from the back to the front and then dismissed from the front to the back.
    • To the extent practicable, siblings will sit together on the same seats.

3) When did the district begin reporting COVID-19 data in schools? 

Our schools have reported data to our local Department of Public Health (DPH) office since the first day of school.  Our school nurses notify DPH of any positive cases of students or adults in our school system and provide documentation necessary when requested. 

The school district was informed by the Georgia Department of Education on August 26, 2020, that Georgia Department of Public Health (GaDPH) had asked that schools complete an online survey with their COVID-19 data each Friday beginning August 28, 2020.  Each school nurse submits their school data each Friday as requested.

4) Will the district report school by school COVID-19 numbers or just district-wide COVID-19 numbers?

At this time, the district is reporting district-wide data.  Below is the most recent data district data reported:

4132Total Number of Students in Emanuel County Schools
4Number of Students With a Current Positive COVID-19 Status
12Number of Students Quarantined For COVID-19 Exposure At School
638Total Number of Employees in Emanuel County Schools
4Number of Employees With a Current Positive COVID-19 Status
4Number of Employees Quarantined For COVID-19 Exposure At School
0.2%Percentage of Students & Employees With a Current Positive COVID-19 Status
0.3%Percentage of Students & Employees Quarantined For COVID-19 Exposure At School

5) At what percentage of COVID positive cases does each school or the district have reach before shutdown? 

The school district works extremely close with our local DPH officials to determine if there is an outbreak within our schools that would warrant this determination.

We also reached out to Emanuel Medical Center CEO Damien Scott. He said his center works with the health department, East Georgia Health Center, which is a local federally qualified health center and a COVID clinic that operates five days a week. These are the three agencies that keep track of COVID numbers.

“Early on, we were having about a five percent positivity rate. I would say we peaked in August. September we’re just as strong,” Scott said adding that they have not reached the level of COVID cases they had in mid August.

He believes community spread started late July, citing that the return to school more than likely did not have anything to do with the spike because it happened before August 3.

And by mid August, hospitalizations began to spike and ultimately test his rural community’s health system. Caring for critical patients became a challenge until he teamed up with Augusta University’s Telehealth program and GEMA sent three critical care nurses.

“Your hospitals, not just us, are more equipped to handle the pandemic than we were early on,” He said, noting that he sent patients out of the state of Georgia at the height of the pandemic.

While Smith is sending a message for her sister to keep fighting, Scott told us the hospital teamed up with East Georgia State College to encourage people to mask up.


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