Students at 42 Charter School arrive on the first day of in-person classes since COVID-19 shuttered schools in March of 2020. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

Note: The district later reported that quarantine figures in this story had been underreported due to a data error.

The NOLA Public Schools district is reporting 65 “active” cases of COVID-19 among students and school staff this week. And 90 people are quarantining, according to the district’s weekly data report. 

The active case count — meaning cases diagnosed in the past two weeks — is down from last week when the district said 99 students and staff had COVID. The vast majority of last week’s cases were students at elementary schools. Children under 12 years old are not yet eligible for the vaccine and represent roughly half of the school population.

The district’s cumulative case count — including cases no longer considered active — for the 2021-2022 school year is 1,223. 

According to this week’s report, current cases are spread across 35 school campuses. Sixty of the active cases reported this week are among students and five are among staff. Once again, the majority of student cases were reported at elementary schools. Morris Jeff Community School reported the most, with seven student cases leading 20 people to quarantine.

As the city continues to recover from Hurricane Ida, and COVID-19 testing rebounds, officials are gaining a better perspective of case counts in the city. The storm pummeled southeast Louisiana, where some students still have not been able to return to school. In the city, the majority of schools reopened between Sept. 15 and 22.

Hurricane Ida not only cancelled school for weeks but has caused other delays as well. One of those is the district’s requirement that all staff provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 30 — because many people evacuated for the storm and vaccination schedules may have been interrupted, the district is giving employees more time to report their status.

This week’s numbers from the school district follow a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on outbreaks during summer break. Last week, the CDC released a new study that examined COVID-19 outbreaks associated with summer camps in Louisiana. Only one of the 28 camps associated with outbreaks required campers and camp staff to wear masks, officials said. 

There were 28 “camp-associated” outbreaks in June and July in the state. That caused more than 321 COVID-19 cases. Eighty-five percent of the cases were in campers aged five to 18. The outbreaks peaked the week of July 4th at nine. Half the campers that were diagnosed with the virus were not yet eligible for the but nearly half were eligible — and of those eligible students just fewer than half had their vaccines.

Half of the camps were day camps and half were overnight camps and the study involved nearly 3,000 campers and staff members. Officials recommended wearing masks, a preventative measure which the NOLA Public Schools school district requires.

City and statewide mask mandates were re-implemented when the Delta variant began spreading in the late summer. The NOLA Public Schools district has already reported 58 percent more cases so far this school year than all of last school year, likely largely due to the more contagious delta variant and children being too young to receive the vaccine 

The average number of positive tests and testing positivity rate in the city have both declined in recent weeks, according to city data. But cases among children have continued to rise and children ages 5 to 17 now make up the largest portion of new cases, according to state data and a report by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Meanwhile, State Superintendent Cade Brumley last week announced a new policy that would allow asymptomatic students to return to school without quarantining after a COVID exposure, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. That’s a departure from CDC and health department advice. Districts can opt in to this policy, but NOLA Public Schools came out strongly against it in the hours after Brumley’s announcement. 

Brumley argued that students who are missing multiple days of school and being placed on multiple quarantines are suffering academically. But officials with the Louisiana Department of Health also denounced the policy.

“We were not consulted, but were notified Wednesday that LDOE would be updating its quarantine guidance. LDH and CDC guidance have not changed,” LDH spokesman Kevin Litten wrote in an email. “We strongly recommend that school districts follow public health guidance and parents quarantine unvaccinated children who may have been in close contact to someone with COVID. Doing so is critical to slowing the spread and protecting children, families, school staff, and communities at large.”

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to questions about which districts have elected to implement the policy. 

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...