After a six-week hiatus, New Orleans public high school students returned to campuses Monday — the same day Louisiana teachers became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine — and the NOLA Public Schools district is reporting 12 “active” cases connected to schools with 206 people quarantining.
All 12 cases — eight among students and four among staff — were newly reported in the last week.
The update comes following an atypical week-long Mardi Gras break with socially distanced backyard celebrations and house float displays instead of daily parades filled with high school marching bands. Any transmission during the holiday break — which also included citywide testing cancellations due to cold weather — likely won’t show up until next week.
The district’s last case update came Feb. 8, when it was tracking 30 “active” cases and 221 people were quarantining. That week, cases were slightly lower than the week prior, but quarantines were higher.
The district recently upgraded its case tracker, including a cumulative count of cases among school staff and students since the beginning of the school year, rather than just “active” cases diagnosed in the previous two weeks. When it rolled out the upgrade, the tracker showed an additional 140 cases, previously unreported, in its cumulative count. The increase was due in part to cases reported to the district over holiday breaks, when it was not updating active cases in its tracker.
Of the 206 people quarantining, 78 are from ReNEW SciTech Academy — the same number that were quarantining before Mardi Gras break
“Due to a positive student case, protocol required the quarantining of that student’s entire static group and, out of an abundance of caution, students who rode the same bus as the child,” ReNEW spokesman Scott Satchfield told The Lens on Feb. 8.
Last Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced teachers and school staff would be among some 400,000 people newly eligible for the vaccine effective Monday.
That day, NOLA Public Schools spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo said some specialized staff — who had been eligible prior to Edwards’ latest expansion — had begun receiving the vaccine.
“According to information provided by Children’s Hospital approximately 190 Group 1B, Tier 1 School Staff have received/been scheduled for the first dose at Children’s Hospital and approximately 150 eligible staff are currently on Children’s Hospital waitlist,” Alfonzo wrote. “Those on the waitlist will be scheduled as vaccine supply is delivered.”
“Also through other health entity partnerships NOLA PS has provided access to the first dose of the vaccine to approximately 115 eligible school staff that were previously on the waitlist at Children’s Hospital,” Alfonzo wrote.
The new eligibility for teachers is no guarantee that they will receive vaccinations quickly.
More than 1.6 million Louisianans are currently eligible for vaccinations and just under 564,000 people have received both doses of the vaccine. Widespread winter weather conditions across the country delayed vaccine shipments and in some cases led to cancelled or delayed appointments.
Alfonzo told The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate last week that roughly 5,000 employees in city schools returned a district survey sent Jan. 20 stating they were interested in receiving the vaccine. The survey was sent to 8,000 employees.
The district has said it will work with its charter schools and local providers to help connect educators to the vaccine.