COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) — High school students are back in the classroom full time in Columbia County. However, there are concerns about health and safety. Greenbrier, Grovetown, Harlem and Lakeside High Schools are reporting at least 10 COVID-19 cases in students. Evans High School is reporting the most cases — 19. Yet, the district’s total case numbers are less than one percent. Dr. Sandra Carraway, the superintendent of the Columbia County School District, attributes the rise in cases to students gathering over the holidays.
“Our expectation is that we will see [case] numbers drop,” she says.
High school students spent the fall semester on a staggered schedule, reporting to campus half the week and logging into class for the other half. The model changed in January with students going to class in-person five days a week.
“If we need to make a decision to go back to an AB schedule, we will. At this point, we don’t feel that it’s a necessity.”
Carraway says reverting to a hybrid schedule will depend on a number of factors, including if teachers are healthy and able to work.
Earlier this month, photos taken inside Evans, Grovetown and Lakeside High Schools circulated on social media showing students in crowded hallways. While photos show students not social distancing, Carraway points out they are wearing masks.
“They’re wearing them consistently. After students returned full time, we have staggered class releases. We have made one-way halls, although we had them all year long. We changed some of the places students can change classes. Our class-changes are six minutes long. At the most, they’re [students] in the hallways for six minutes.”
School districts throughout the CSRA continue to be tested by the pandemic. Health officials caution they will not return to normality until students can be vaccinated from COVID-19. However, a vaccine has not been approved for children younger than 16-years-old due to a lack of testing on young age groups.
“We hope we can have more guidance by the summer to be able to start vaccinating in the summer or early fall, prior to the next academic year,” Dr. Rodger MacArthur, an infectious diseases expert at the Medical College of Georgia, explains. “Right now, we can’t.”
Until students can be vaccinated, Carraway says the district will do its best to keep its schools open and protect students and staff.
“The public should know there is nothing we would want to do that would contribute to the spread of this virus,” she says. “As long as we can have school safely, that’s what we want to do because they are essential to the wellbeing of children in every way.”