From September 2020, young students return to Plessy Community School for the first day of in-person classes in six months after the pandemic shuttered schools. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district is tracking 46 “active” cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, and 418 people are quarantining after being exposed to a positive case, according to the district’s latest weekly data report issued Tuesday morning.

This week’s report shows a slight decline in cases from last week, when the district reported 50 active cases, but a rise in quarantines, heading into the Thanksgiving holiday when families are likely to travel and interact with people outside of their household.

So far this school year, the district has reported 1,521 cases of COVID-19 among staff and students — nearly double the 774 cases reported through all of last school year. Last week the district’s total reported cases this school year stood at 1,486, indicating that of the 46 cases its monitoring this week, 35 were newly diagnosed last week.

Nearly half of this week’s 418  quarantines are from Paul Habans Charter School, where nine reported cases have led 182 people to stay home.

The 46 active cases — meaning they were diagnosed in the past two weeks — in this week’s report include five staffers and 41 students across 19 campuses. Like many prior weeks, the majority of cases have been reported from elementary schools, where until recently, the majority of children were not eligible for a vaccine. The district continues to offer pop-up vaccination events at several schools.

The Office of Public Health has initiated a process to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the state’s list of immunizations required to attend school in Louisiana, The Advocate reported. State law still allows parents to opt-out. The Advocate reports the state House Committee on Health and Welfare will hold a hearing on the matter in early December. The Senate and House Health Care Committees could vote to block the rule, but that would require the support of the governor, who has indicated that he backs such a rule.

The NOLA Public Schools district already has a mandate for employees, applying to several hundred who work directly for the district’s central office. Over the summer, the administration proposed, and the Orleans Parish School Board adopted, a policy requiring central office staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September. 

“Approximately 99.8% of employees have provided verified proof of COVID-19 vaccination,” she wrote in an email. “We are working with schools to get an accurate understanding of their vaccination rates.”

In addition, a number of independent charter schools — which account for the bulk of school workers in the city — in the district have adopted their own employee mandates.

Citywide COVID numbers have remained relatively steady in recent months, following the Delta surge. The test positivity rate has remained below one percent since the beginning of October, according to city data, and the city is averaging 23 new cases of COVID-19 per day. But nationwide, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast cases are rising sharply.

CDC officials reported Monday that the seven-day average of reported COVID-19 infections has increased by 18 percent nationwide. That could cause some concern for further spread during the holiday weekend. A nationwide spike in cases was associated with the holiday season last year. 

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...