The NOLA Public Schools district is tracking 40 “active” cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, and 275 people in contact with those individuals are in quarantine, according to the district’s latest weekly report released Monday afternoon.
Quarantines dropped slightly from last week’s total of 304. However, active cases remained the same. This week’s 40 cases are among 36 students and four staff members across 21 campuses.
“The number of reported active cases continues to be low in large part to the high participation rate in weekly COVID testing among students and staff,” a district release stated. “Robust COVID-19 testing continues on a weekly basis through the NOLAS-PS mobile testing program and our partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).”
Most district cases continue to be reported from elementary schools, where the majority of students are ineligible for the vaccine. But officials are optimistic that those students will soon be able to be protected from the virus. A few days ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old. Currently, only people 12 and older are eligible. Full approval for children now rests with the CDC.
Last week, Gov. John Bel Edwards repealed his statewide mask mandate. And schools are now able to opt out of mandatory masking if they follow CDC guidelines requiring quarantines for unvaccinated students and staff who have been in close contact with someone who is infected. That’s in direct conflict with a policy State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley announced last month, which allowed school districts to skirt CDC quarantine if they opted in and let parents decide whether children exposed to the virus return to school.
NOLA Public Schools has maintained its mask mandate and came out firmly against Brumley’s elective policy.
Now, some districts that have opted in to Brumley’s “parent-choice” policy are taking the Edwards up on his offer to lift mask mandates in the classroom, theoretically requiring them to affirm that they are following the stricter CDC quarantine guidelines. However, no state agency — including the LDOE, Department of Health of the Governor’s office — is tracking their compliance.
“Our clear and public health recommendation is to continue masking and quarantining as recommended by the CDC,” State Health Officer Joe Kanter said last week, while addressing schools.
For districts following CDC quarantine recommendations, expansion of vaccine availability could reduce the number of students required to stay at home.
“If a child is fully vaccinated they no longer have to quarantine if they remain asymptomatic,” Kanter said.
District officials have already begun planning to distribute the shots, which could be available as early as this week.
“Vaccinations remain integral in the preservation of in-person learning for our students and educators,” district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in an email on Monday.
“Once the FDA provides an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for 5-11 year olds, NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) will explore making the vaccine accessible during times convenient for both parents and students,” she wrote. “For example, NOLA-PS is exploring plans for Saturday vaccine events. We are working on that schedule with vaccine providers and our health partners.”
The district is also hosting a virtual town hall with pediatric specialists on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Parents can submit questions ahead of time at VaccineUpdates@nolapublicschools.com. The meeting will be hosted on Zoom. (You can attend by clicking here.)