Buses arrive at Sci High on the first day of school for the 2022-23 school year. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

The Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed a staff member at New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School tested positive for monkeypox last week, according to Sci High’s Head of School Monique Cola. 

The news comes in the first weeks of a new school year, and as schools continue, for the third year, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cola alerted families to the case, which was confirmed by state health officials on Friday, in a school-wide email sent on Sunday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has categorized the risk of children acquiring the virus in a school setting as low. It is spread through bodily fluids and contacts with surfaces that have been touched by an infected person. 

In the email, Cola explained that on Aug. 15, during the second week of school, a staff member displayed potential symptoms of the virus. 

“Our school-based health clinic evaluated the individual and sent them for testing that morning,” Cola wrote to families, noting the staff member stayed home for the rest of the week and that school staff disinfected all areas occupied by the individual that day.

On Friday, Cola said the state notified the school that the staff member had indeed tested positive and the LDH began contact tracing.

“Because of close physical contact, the Louisiana Department of Health will notify anyone deemed close contact with this individual,” Cola wrote. “However, this will be limited due to the fast and thorough actions of our staff and school-based health clinic.”

In closing, Cola wrote there would be “no operational changes for our school program” this week and that any questions could be directed to the school’s clinic.

The case at Sci High is the first reported to the NOLA Public Schools district and confirmed by LDH since the current outbreak began, district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in an email to The Lens on Tuesday. Alfonzo said NOLA Public Schools has been following CDC guidance on the disease and working with LDH and its own medical experts to help guide schools’ safety plans.

“NOLA-PS is informing its school community on how the disease is spread, its symptoms, and the best way to reduce the likelihood of transmission, All school nurses received training the week of August 18th on the identification of symptoms, disease progression, disinfection, and other available resources.,” Alfonzo wrote. “LDH will take the lead on any cases that may arise in the future and will be responsible for conducting contact tracing.”

It is unclear whether the school district or LDH will publicly report monkeypox cases among school staff and students as they have with COVID-19.

The Department of Health confirmed the first case of monkeypox in a Louisiana resident on July 7. Since then, nearly 75 percent of Louisiana’s 146 confirmed cases are in the southeast region of the state, which includes New Orleans and surrounding parishes.

The Department of Health states “people most commonly get monkeypox through close and sustained skin-to-skin contact, including but not limited to intimate and sexual contact.”

Officials say it can also be spread through bodily fluid either via direct contact with lesions or by touching objects that have been used by someone with the virus. 

The New Orleans Health Department will be offering free vaccines on Bourbon Street on Wednesday in advance of Southern Decadence, one of the country’s largest LGBTQ festivals. 

New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said the city is paying close attention to the event and working to provide additional resources.

“Right now we do know that the majority of cases, both in Louisiana and around the country, are primarily in men who have sex with men and especially with multiple sexual partners,” Avegno told WWNO in an interview. “And that is a very large demographic of who’s going to be at Decadence.”

This story has been updated to include comments from the NOLA Public Schools district.

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...