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Schools reporting infections as Calhoun County coronavirus count rises Tuesday

Coronavirus infections in Calhoun County are creeping back upward again, with 2,411 people in the county infected and 32 dead from the virus, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The spread of the virus is beginning to affect local K-12 schools, where COVID-19 infections are few but quarantine rules have sent dozens of students home because they were in contact with people who tested positive.

“We probably have about 200 out of school right now," Donald Turner, superintendent of Calhoun County Schools, said Monday. The county school system is the area's largest, with about 8,200 students across multiple elementary and high schools.

Turner said only five students in the county system have had confirmed infections, and school officials believe all those infections came from contacts with people outside of school.

Still, he said, quarantine rules can in some cases send an entire class home because they were exposed to one infected student or teacher.

Jacksonville City Schools, in an announcement over the weekend, reported that someone at Kitty Stone Elementary tested positive for the virus on Friday. The statement didn’t say whether the infected person was a student or a staff member, and Superintendent Mike Newell declined to specify in a later interview, citing medical privacy concerns.

“It was someone affiliated with the first grade,” Newell said Monday. He said 16 first-grade students and two teachers were quarantined at home as a result of the one infection.

Newell said that at Jacksonville High School, a football player recently tested positive for the virus, causing one other player to also go into quarantine.

The difference in results — 16 students quarantined at one school, and only one at another school — offers a glimpse of how some activities at school have changed to fit the COVID-19 era, and how tough it can be to prevent exposure in the classroom.

Newell said that according to state rules, 15 minutes of exposure to someone with COVID-19 counts as a close contact requiring quarantine. School officials in Jacksonville and other systems fretted, before the school year, about the difficulty of avoiding that sort of contact in a classroom.

With football practice, though, schools were able to limit themselves to small practice groups. Football players change at home, Newell said, and ride in separate cars to games.

Piedmont City Schools has yet to see a student test positive, Superintendent Mike Hayes said in an email to The Star on Monday, though three students have been quarantined because of exposure outside the school. He said a handful of students were also quarantined because of seeming COVID-19 symptoms, though none tested positive.

Jacksonville State University on Tuesday had 219 active cases of coronavirus among students and staff, according to the university’s website. The university earlier imposed a two-week prohibition on school-sponsored gatherings.

The virus surged both locally and statewide in July, an increase that state officials attributed to the end of the first wave of public health restrictions combined with social events over the Independence Day holiday. State health officials imposed an order making face masks mandatory in public in mid-July, and shortly thereafter, the daily count of new cases began to drop. Gov. Kay Ivey last week announced that the order would be extended to Oct. 2.

Over the past week, the number of new daily cases appears to be creeping upward again, both in Calhoun County and across the state. By this weekend, the state was averaging around 1,000 new cases per day.

Even so, Calhoun County Emergency Management officials, in a Facebook livestream Monday, said models show the general downward trend that started in August continuing through October. Under that model, new cases wouldn’t begin a significant surge again until the colder months.

“A lot of the experts think there’s going to be an increase in spread during the cold and flu season,” EMA spokesman Myles Chamblee said.

School officials, though, are concerned about the long Labor Day weekend and the chance that students will be exposed to the virus through vacations or other events.

“You wonder what they’re going to bring back with them,” Newell said.

There were 118,134 Alabamians with confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday, according to ADPH numbers. The virus has killed 2,102 people in the state.


Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.