Morgan County had almost 100 new COVID-19 cases reported for the second consecutive day Thursday and quarantines and cases are rising within local schools, but local school officials said they have no immediate plans to shut down in-person instruction.

Officials at other systems in north Alabama are switching at least some schools to virtual instruction. The Colbert County school system announced Thursday that it would go to virtual instruction Monday for the rest of the semester, which means students won't return to classrooms until Jan. 5. Lauderdale County High, which houses pre-K through grade 12 in Rogersville, will transition to remote learning today and won't return to classrooms until Nov. 30.

Alabama Department of Public Health administrator for the Northern District Judy Smith said school leaders have been meeting “to decide what changes, if any, they need to make” due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

She said the virus is spreading anywhere people gather, and people should “assume that somebody there has COVID or is a close contact with the potential to expose you."

The ADPH on Thursday reported 96 new infections among Morgan County residents after reporting 87 Wednesday. The only day in which more infections were reported in the county was Oct. 30, when the agency reported 120 new cases. 

ADPH also reported 2,000 new COVID-19 cases statewide Thursday after reporting 2,070 new cases a day earlier.

Smith said the need for people to wear their masks and take the virus seriously is compounded by high hospitalization rates, including many patients who are on ventilators and in intensive care.

“We just cannot afford for it to be worse,” she said. “Many people are being affected. Hospital numbers across the state are the highest that they have been since August 18, three months ago.”

Decatur Morgan Hospital spokeswoman Noel Lovelace said as of Thursday morning, 36 hospital employees are in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19. The hospital currently has 33 confirmed and 3 presumptive COVID-19 inpatients, including 10 in intensive care and six on ventilators. 

The City of Decatur had 20 employees in quarantine as of Thursday morning, eight of those with a positive test result, according to Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin.

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Morgan County Schools

As of Thursday afternoon, 30 students and employees in Morgan County Schools reported that they had recently tested positive for the virus. Spokeswoman Lisa Screws said this is the highest number of active cases for the district since the pandemic began. She said there are no plans to move schools to virtual instruction, but the district is monitoring case and quarantine numbers on a daily basis.

Superintendent Robert Elliott Jr. said the district is not experiencing staffing concerns.

“At this time, we have had enough subs to cover classes. In cases where teachers are having to teach remote, there is still a sub in that classroom,” Elliott said.

Of the 22 students who have recently tested positive for COVID-19, two are from Danville Middle, four are from Priceville Elementary, three are from Priceville Junior High, three are from Union Hill School, two are from West Morgan Elementary, and one each are from Brewer High, Eva School, Falkville Elementary, Falkville High, Lacey’s Spring School, Priceville High, West Morgan High and West Morgan Middle.

Of the eight employees who recently tested positive, two work at Falkville High, and one each work at Danville Middle, Danville High, Eva School, Lacey’s Spring School, Priceville Elementary and Priceville Junior High.

The district does not make its quarantine data public, but posts reported cases of COVID-19 to its website at www.morgank12.org.

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Hartselle City Schools

Hartselle City Schools Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said 319 students and employees were in quarantine as of Thursday, including 304 students and 15 employees. Based on the district’s September enrollment of 3,556 students, 8.6% of the district’s students are currently in quarantine.

Two central office employees are in quarantine, as well as 11 students and an employee at Barkley Bridge Elementary, 10 students at Crestline Elementary, and 19 students and two employees at F.E. Burleson Elementary. The majority of the quarantines come from the intermediate, junior high and high schools; 96 students and three employees at Hartselle Intermediate, 96 students at Hartselle Junior High, and 72 students and seven employees at Hartselle High are currently in quarantine.

Positive cases are also climbing within the district, with 23 students and eight employees recently testing positive for a total of 31 positive cases. Three students and one employee recently tested positive at F.E. Burleson Elementary, as well as four students and an employee at Hartselle Intermediate, three students and two employees at Hartselle Junior High, and 12 students and three employees at Hartselle High. One individual from Crestline Elementary, and one employee from the central office also tested positive for the virus.

“Currently, we do not have a class or school on virtual. We have several on quarantine,” Jones said. “We have seen an increase in positive cases and we have increased our number in quarantine.”

Jones said the district is continuing to accept applications for substitute teachers.

“We have had a couple of days where other staff members have covered classes. We have found a way to make it work,” she said.

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Decatur City Schools

Decatur City Schools had no plans to move to virtual instruction as of Thursday. Deputy Superintendent of Operations Dwight Satterfield said administrators are continuing to look at the numbers of quarantines and cases.

“We’re going to (continue to) monitor it on a daily basis,” Satterfield said. “(Moving the district to virtual instruction is) not something that we want to do.”

Satterfield said the cases are spread out throughout the district: “I’m not seeing a cluster (of cases).”

Last week, Satterfield said a first-grade teacher at Benjamin Davis Elementary was quarantined, but in-person class was able to proceed because the impacted teacher moved to virtual instruction and was replaced in the classroom by a teacher who'd previously been working virtually. About 15 kindergarten students at Woodmeade Elementary quarantined last week due to exposure to the virus.

Additionally, the entire child nutrition program staff at Decatur High had to be quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure, Satterfield said.

According to an update from the district which was sent to parents on Monday, parents should be prepared for a switch to virtual learning.

“We want to remind parents to develop and have a supervision plan in place for your student should we have to switch to a virtual platform at any location or system-wide,” the update said.

Satterfield estimated the district has between 30 and 40 positive cases of COVID-19, and said Thursday an update with exact numbers would be released today.

As of last Friday, the district had a total of 22 positive cases and 250 students and employees in quarantine.

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Sports concerns

Smith with ADPH said sports are another contributor to the spread of COVID-19. She said spectators did not always follow mask rules during football season, and that wearing masks appropriately will become even more critical in controlling the spread of COVID-19 as schools move into indoor sports like basketball.

“Things were outside, but if you went to any of the games you saw that people were not consistently and appropriately wearing masks, and even if there were guards at the gates … once people got inside, it became personal responsibility, and folks just didn’t follow through like they could have,” Smith said.

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cassie.kuhn@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @ DD_CassieKuhn.

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