Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. holds a press conference announcing COVID-19 cases have tripled in NOLA Public Schools. Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Active cases of COVID-19 connected to New Orleans public schools  jumped to 54 this week, from 14 last week. And 716 students and staff are quarantining, NOLA Public Schools district officials announced at a Thursday afternoon press conference. 

District Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. called on citizens to be vigilant in following health guidelines so as to keep case counts low and avoid reverting to distance learning. That’s a move several large school districts have made in the last week amid the third wave of COVID-19 cases in the country, including New York City Public Schools — the nation’s largest school district. 

“The data today do not require any systemwide shift in serving our students in person,” Lewis said.

Of the 54 active cases, 45 were newly confirmed within the past seven days, officials said. That’s well above the average of 9 new cases per week over the first six weeks the district reported numbers.

The district does not release a cumulative count, but based on what the district has released, the cumulative count over that time appears to be 99 cases: 12 cases in week one, four new cases in week two, 11 new cases in week three, nine in week four, six in week five, 12 in week six and 45 in week seven.

The cases and quarantining individuals are spread across 27 schools. Several schools have either sent home entire grades or individual classes due either to exposure or staff shortages. 

Asked whether any known cases had been spread within a school — something officials said last week had not been seen so far — officials didn’t go so far as to say the virus had spread in class but acknowledged that one school had seven student cases and six staff cases. That’s Encore Academy where 89 people are now quarantining. 

“We did have one incident this week where we did have a high number of cases, they did not require a return to distance learning for that school but out of an abundance of caution we did take that action,” she said. 

At Alice Harte Elementary, 117 people are quarantining. 

Though daily case counts in the city are on the rise, district Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said that is just one metric the district evaluates.

“Our other metrics remain strong,” she said. 

Delcour also said new data, such as the age of people with positive cases, has also aided the district.

“We know so much more about our data now than we did in the summer. We know so much more about the demographics which help us make tailor made decisions about the restrictions we may put in place in the future.”

If cases continue to rise, Delcour said the district would look at other alternatives before closing school buildings. Those could include reducing spectators at sporting events, restricting extracurricular activities and reducing class sizes, she said.

Dr. Benjamin Springgate, the district’s health advisor encouraged staff and students to get tested through the district’s partner organizations. 

“Knowing your status — whether you have COVID-19 — is a critical part of keeping the community safe,” he said.

That could include expanded testing options thanks to $775,000 in grants the district announced this week. One of the donors was the Greater New Orleans Foundation. At the press conference, CEO Andy Kopplin said the money is intended to allow “students to continue to learn and not miss any more time in the classroom.”

Students have also missed school this year due to hurricanes and Lewis said schools are evaluating their calendars to determine whether additional school days should be added.

“As we enter the holiday season we are asking everyone to limit their interactions and keep family gatherings small,” Lewis said. “That will make a difference for our students.”

This story was updated with additional information from a NOLA Public Schools press release.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...