From September 2020, a Plessy Community School employee welcomes a student back on the first day of in-person classes after the pandemic shuttered school buildings for six months in 2020.

Active COVID-19 cases among NOLA Public Schools students and staff have increased by more than 150 percent in one week — to 299 from 116 reported last week — according to the latest weekly report from the district. The data is current as of Friday, Aug. 13.

Potential exposures have led to 3,004 students and staff going into quarantine, nearly five times the 638 the district reported a week ago.

Of the 299 known cases — considered active because they were diagnosed within the past two weeks — 53 are among school staff and 246 are among students. District officials said that 102 of the cases are among people who have had no close school contacts because they have not been on school campuses.

The number of quarantines represents almost 6 percent of the combined student and staff population in the district, with more than 50 schools reporting at least one person in quarantine and a dozen reporting more than 100. The highest number of quarantines was at KIPP Morial, with 362. The school reported 17 active COVID cases.

“While these numbers are high, quarantine reflects our mitigation efforts in action that help to keep students and staff safe,” district Medical Advisor Dr. Benjamin F. Springgate was quoted as saying in a Monday press release. “As a result of these mitigation efforts, COVID-19 transmission in our schools remains very uncommon.”

Monday’s higher numbers from the district are consistent with surging case counts being reported by the city and the state over the past few weeks. The highly contagious delta variant has also led to a spike in hospitalizations, creating a crisis situation in many Louisiana hospitals straining to make room for patients. Cases and hospitalizations among children have also gone up at a rate not seen earlier in the pandemic.

Just weeks into the 2021-2022 school year, the NOLA Public Schools district has reported 370 cases in total, including those cases no longer considered active. That represents almost half of the 774 the district reported during all of the 2020-2021 school year.

Unlike last year, when much smaller spikes in case counts occasionally led to school, or even districtwide, closures, NOLA Public Schools officials are intent on keeping students in school buildings this year, saying that schools can be safe for students if they follow mitigation measures. Anyone entering their buildings is required to wear a mask, and social distancing guidelines remain in place.

Some individual charter school networks have gone further. The three-school Crescent City Schools charter network is mandating vaccinations for staff, and district high schools are requiring staff to be vaccinated or receive weekly COVID tests. District high school students participating in extracurricular activities are also required to be vaccinated,  “except in exceptional circumstances where regular COVID-19 testing will be allowed.”

“NOLA-PS and its school leaders have been in constant communication with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) and our medical advisors regarding these cases, and they have not recommended any school closures at this time,” NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. was quoted as saying in the press release. “Rather, they recommend continuing to follow the District’s COVID Guidance measures to help protect the health of our students, teachers, and staff.”

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...