The Decatur and Hartselle school systems combined have more than 300 students and staff quarantined, but the most recent data indicates confirmed cases of COVID-19 have declined in the two districts while rising slightly in Morgan County Schools.

The county remains in the green, or low risk, category for the spread of COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. There were 17 new cases of the illness reported Wednesday by ADPH for Morgan County with no new deaths. The daily average of new cases in the county is 13.6 over the past two weeks.

Judy Smith, public health administrator for ADPH's Northern District, said health officials are starting to see cases decline within schools.

"A lot of that we think has to do with the effort that the school systems have put into monitoring and doing what they're supposed to do," Smith said. "We feel like the school system is doing their part. What we need is for families and people to do their part when they're outside of school."

Smith said she's specifically concerned about a possible spike in cases that could come two weeks after Labor Day. The ADPH has reported increases in case numbers about two weeks after both Memorial Day and Independence Day.

Smith said a student or staff member is designated a "close contact" and quarantined if they are within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, but schools are often erring on the side of caution and sending students and staff home if they aren't sure whether the contact exceeded 15 minutes.

"One of the things that we're working on right now with the schools is to be sure that they're a little more comfortable with only sending home what ... would actually be classified as close contacts," Smith said.

As of Friday, Decatur City Schools had nine active confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of the nine cases, five were students and four were faculty members. Three of the student infections came from Austin High, one from Austin Junior High and one from West Decatur Elementary. One faculty member was infected at each of the following schools: Banks-Caddell Elementary, Chestnut Grove Elementary, Decatur Middle and West Decatur Elementary.

A total of 262 people, including 228 students and 34 faculty, were quarantined due to illness or exposure as of Friday. The nine known COVID-19 cases are included in the count of quarantined students and faculty. Compared to the numbers as of Aug. 26, the number of quarantined students and faculty has increased by 44. However, the overall number of active COVID-19 cases has decreased. As of Aug. 26, the district had 14 known active cases of the virus compared to nine on Friday.

In its COVID-19 update, the district said it is continuing to follow guidelines established by the ADPH “tool kit,” which contains specific advice for how long students and staff need to quarantine after exposure or testing positive for COVID-19.

“ADPH and the Alabama Department of Education advises the use of quarantine as the best measure to help stop the spread,” the district said.

If a student is deemed a “close contact exposure,” they must quarantine for a full 14 days even if they test negative for the virus. However, a student sent home due to symptoms associated with COVID-19 can return to school if they receive a doctor’s approval, as well as a diagnosis for an illness other than COVID-19.

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Hartselle City Schools

Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said Hartselle City Schools had four active confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday afternoon, down from 12 cases last week.

One student or staff member recently tested positive at Crestline Elementary, F.E. Burleson Elementary, Hartselle Intermediate and Hartselle High School.

Including those who tested positive for the virus, a total of 77 students and staff were quarantined due to illness or exposure as of Wednesday afternoon. The overall number of quarantines has decreased significantly since last week, when 369 students and staff were quarantined.

Hartselle High comprises about 30% of quarantined students and staff district-wide, with 23 students in quarantine. In addition, four students and one teacher from Hartselle Junior High, 12 students from Hartselle Intermediate, nine students from F.E. Burleson Elementary, 22 students and two teachers from Crestline Elementary and four students from Barkley Bridge Elementary were quarantined. The number of quarantined students and staff decreased from last week at every school except Crestline Elementary, which had five more students and teachers quarantined than in the previous week.

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Morgan County Schools

According to the Morgan County Schools district website, there were 10 recent cases of COVID-19 among students and staff as of Tuesday afternoon. Half of these cases come from staff, while half come from students. This is an increase from the numbers posted on Aug. 27, when one staff member and three students had active cases.  

One staff member each tested positive for COVID-19 at Brewer High, Danville Middle, Danville-Neel Elementary, Lacey’s Spring and Priceville Elementary. One student each tested positive at Brewer High, Falkville Elementary, Priceville High, Union Hill and West Morgan Elementary.

Morgan County Schools declined to release information regarding the number of students and staff in quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.

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

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