Upward of 1,000 Nashville students and staff are under COVID-19-related quarantines or isolation on Tuesday following the city’s first week of school.
According to data from the Student Health Service department, during the week of Aug. 9 through 15, there were 207 confirmed positive coronavirus cases and 52 confirmed staff positive cases.
Including positive case numbers, there were 980 students and 95 staff actively quarantined or isolated as of Sunday evening.
The outlet noted that the numbers included both virtual and in-person students and staff – 300 of which are enrolled in the MNPS Virtual School.
“Metro Schools partners with the Metro Public Health Department for our school nurse program. When a positive case of COVID-19 is identified, our school nurses conduct contact tracing to identify potential close contacts for quarantine to reduce the potential for an outbreak or further transmission of the virus,” district spokesperson Sean Braisted explained in a Tuesday e-mail to Fox News.
“Staff who quarantine or self-isolate are given remote work opportunities and students are able to be counted present for attendance if they participate in remote instruction by completing their assigned work in Schoology. MNPS Virtual School will provide individualized instructional support to students who cannot attend school in person during their quarantine,” he added.
The Tennessean said the same day that more than 1,100 students in Wilson County Schools had tested positive for COVID-19 or are quarantined due to contract tracing through the first week of school.
Tennessee has seen more than 31,000 cases and 142 new deaths in the past week with a test positivity rate of 21.94 percent, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Thus far in the state, nearly 13,000 people have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic and there have been 954,610 confirmed cases.
As the delta variant rips through the US, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters on Monday that Tenessee hospitals were struggling to meet the surge and that the state has already broken its single-month record for new COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“An interesting and startling statistic is that in the first 15 days of August, we’ve had 1,023 hospitalizations,” she said during a video news conference. “That is higher than any other full month combined in the pandemic, which was November and it was in the 900s.”
Piercey noted that from May through July, 88 percent of hospitalizations and 94 percent of deaths were among the unvaccinated. Just over 41 percent of the state is vaccinated.
While the city’s top school officials had agreed to enforce a universal mask mandate for the upcoming school year at the beginning of the month – drawing outrage from state Republicans like House Speaker Cameron Sexton – Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday allowing parents to opt their children out of coronavirus-related mask mandates in K-12 schools.
Lee has also said he would not call the broad special legislative session requested by Republican House lawmakers to restrict the authority of local officials to make rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The governor has not implemented a statewide mask mandate for schools and said that if officials were to enforce a mask requirement it “would be against the law and we would see what would happen there.”
While few Tennessee school districts have adopted a mask mandate, the Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Monday that it would “continue to require the use of masks.”
“The Metro Nashville Board of Education and I are charged with educating our students and with keeping them safe. Universal masking policies, during the pandemic, are a key mitigation strategy to do just that. To allow anyone to opt out of these policies for any reason, other than legitimate medical need, would make them ineffective and would require more students to be quarantined and kept out of the classroom,” Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Adrienne Battle said in a statement.
“The governor’s executive order was released without prior notice to school districts for review or comment. As such, Metro Schools will continue to require face masks, pursuant to the rules adopted by the Board, as we further review this order and explore all options available to the district to best protect the health of our students, teachers and staff,” she wrote.
Although nationwide guidance on masking has changed with the introduction of vaccines and variants, public health experts say masks are a key coronavirus-prevention tool that does not pose health risks for children older than toddler age and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has again recommended them for schools.
Currently, only those 12 and older are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.