There’s a Facebook video on a Rome funeral home’s page that shows friends paying their respects to a woman, in her mid 40s, who died from COVID. All of the guests who file by the open casket are wearing masks but are separated from any direct contact by an attendant.
Black, white, Latino — the mourners pack the chapel, shoulder to shoulder — as if in defiance of what caused her death.
The woman was a popular employee at a local elementary school, one of several that have been hit hard by this COVID surge targeting young people. We don’t know how she came into contact with the virus. It doesn’t matter, especially if it went undetected for several days.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a 14-year-old student die while other students have been hospitalized. An elementary school teacher has now passed from COVID. We’ve seen a substitute teacher and a bus driver in the obituaries (mid 40s and late 50s). Friends tell of spouses home ill for days after contacting the virus, likely at schools where masks were not required. We’ve seen spouses of employees diagnosed with COVID and lose the fight. At least one school, Cave Spring Elementary, was hit so hard that central office staffers were deployed to serve as substitutes for several days.
Perhaps half of the above stories have been reported while some shared strictly on social media. Together, it paints a much more serious situation on our campuses. And then there was this bomb that went underreported last week. This excerpt comes from a weekly COVID wrap-up by the AJC posted Saturday and published Sunday:
“At a Georgia Department of Public Health board meeting, Dr. Cherie Drenzek, a state epidemiologist, said that about 60% of all COVID-19 outbreaks in Georgia now take place in K-12 schools, with more than 100 school outbreaks so far.”
Public Health records show there were 1,821 overall new cases reported in our five-county region between Sept. 10 and 17. More than a third of those were in Floyd County, or 650 new cases. What was reported by school systems last week?
- Rome City Schools, with more than 6,000 students, reported 24 new student and staff cases.
- Floyd County Schools reported 51 new cases among 9,036 students and 3 among faculty/staff.
- Bartow County Schools posted 95 positive cases out of 15,427 students and staff.
- Polk County: On Friday alone, it listed 62 cases among 8,575 students and staff.
- Cartersville City Schools reported 17 student and 2 staff positive tests.
- Gordon County Schools saw 31 student and 3 staff cases.
- Calhoun City Schools:14 students and 1 faculty/staff.
- Chattooga County Schools: 37 cases overall.
- Total: 337 COVID cases among students and staff. Those numbers are down since classes began in early August.
So what is being done?
After initial reluctance to do so, Rome City Schools adopted a mask mandate at least through fall break. Originally it took 1% of student and staff cases to prompt using masks. Superintendent Lou Byars told his board that they are seeing improving reports thanks to enhanced safety steps.
Floyd County Schools has a 2% rule for using masks — counting students only as if faculty and staff in the same environment aren’t factors. Also, student cases must be medically diagnosed to be counted. One school has gone virtual so a week so far this year and several others have been under a mask mandate; none are this coming week. But what is new starting Tuesday: Expanded “remote learning opportunities,” likely because of the parent complaints we’ve heard about students recovering from COVID at home with symptoms continuing for more than a week. Parents tell us there wasn’t much being done to help the kids stay current.
What about faculty and staff?
As one veteran educator tells us, “I think the school systems should be more transparent about how many employees have been hospitalized due to Covid and they should also announce when we lose an employee as a sign of respect.” The writer asks to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
This educator makes a good point, one backed up by what we’re seeing among the obituaries. Since Sept. 1, Hometown Headlines has published more than 100 obituaries — at least six of them have had ties to our local campuses. Some mention COVID but we likewise understand the medical records and employment privacy guidelines.
We’ll again dig deeper to see if anyone is keeping count locally or on the state level. At last check, that wasn’t happening. Families who wish to share updates with us are asked to do so. Names will be omitted. Please email, in confidence, to: email@example.com