East Limestone middle and high schools are going fully virtual through Nov. 30 after COVID-19 infections and quarantines among faculty members left the schools without enough staff.

Meanwhile, Decatur City Schools said Friday it had no plans to end in-person instruction despite having more than 500 students and staff in quarantine.

Limestone County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse said East Limestone had 21 active cases of COVID-19, including 19 students and two teachers.

“We had 16 (teachers) who were quarantined, and we were able to cover the classes yesterday and today but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that,” Shearouse said Friday. “We were pulling some classroom aides to help out, and other individuals, which we are very appreciative of the extra help, but with 16 (quarantined), that’s just a lot to find replacements.”

Shearouse said a total of 398 students are in quarantine at East Limestone. He said a large number of the quarantines are from band students.

“We’ve had an upsurge. The other schools are doing OK; East Limestone is kind of a hot spot right now,” he said.

Students will learn virtually for a full week, plus the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Shearouse said, which will serve as a “practice run,” and ensure that students are familiar with virtual learning devices if the district has to move to a virtual format later in the year.

“We have full intention of coming back after Thanksgiving, but I think it’s a good time … just to practice, and get devices out,” he said.

Districtwide, Shearouse said there are 40 students and eight staff members who recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Friday elevated the risk level for COVID-19 transmission in Limestone to "very high risk," and the 65 new cases reported Friday was the second highest daily count since the pandemic began, with the highest being 77 on Nov. 1. Another 38 new cases were reported Saturday. The county has been averaging 43 new cases per day for the last week, and over the last two weeks more than 31% of those tested for the virus have been infected.

ADPH on Friday confirmed the deaths of three Limestone County residents from COVID-19, tying the record daily death toll reached Sept. 4 and bringing the total death toll from the virus in the county to 41.

Also in Limestone County, the Rev. Jason Greene said services are canceled at Tanner United Methodist Church on Sunday after he and at least one other member of the church tested positive for COVID-19.

“Last night, I learned that one of our church members had tested positive for COVID-19, and is in ICU,” Greene said in a message to his congregation Friday. “All of us that have been in close proximity with this person were tested today.

"I tested positive for COVID-19. I have a fever of 101, aches, tight chest and feel like a small hippo is sitting on my chest. With that said, I am at home, in bed and taking all precautions necessary.”

Decatur City Schools

Superintendent Michael Douglas said as of Friday, in-person instruction will continue at all schools.

There are 37 positive cases of COVID-19 within the district, including 25 among students and 12 among staff. The highest number of positive cases comes from Austin Junior High, where seven students recently tested positive. Other impacted schools are Austin High (three cases), Austin Middle (six cases), Austinville Elementary (three cases), Benjamin Davis Elementary (two cases), Decatur High (five cases), Frances Nungester Elementary (four cases), Woodmeade Elementary (three cases), Chestnut Grove Elementary (one case), Julian Harris Elementary (one case), Leon Sheffield Elementary (one case) and the central office (one case).

A total of 523 employees and students are in quarantine, including 446 students and 77 employees.

For only the second time since the pandemic began, Morgan County broke the 100 mark in new cases Friday with 113. The highest number of new cases in a day was Oct. 30, when ADPH reported 120. Another 63 new cases were reported Saturday. Over the last week, the county has averaged 74 new cases per day, and over the last two weeks more than 30% of those tested for the virus have been infected. Forty-one Morgan County residents have died of the disease.

The Morgan County spike Friday came on the same day that Alabama recorded 2,980 new cases, the highest number of new cases in a day since the pandemic began. ADPH reported another 2,226 new cases Saturday, and has reported a cumulative total of 3,246 Alabamians who have died of the disease.

Decatur Morgan Hospital had 35 COVID-19 patients Friday. Eight were in intensive care, including five on ventilators.

Lawrence County added 13 new cases Friday and 21 on Saturday. Over the last two weeks, more than 29% of those tested for the virus have been infected. Thirty-five Lawrence County residents have died of COVID-19, according to ADPH.

ADPH on Friday labeled both Morgan and Lawrence counties as being at "moderate risk" for transmission of the virus.

ADPH releases updated risk levels each Friday based on data that cuts off six days before the updated assessments are released. As a result, Friday's assessment is based on data from the previous week, ending Nov. 7.

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

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