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COVID In New Orleans Public Schools: See Cases, Quarantines, Positivity Rate Post-Ida

This story has since been updated as of Tuesday evening to include information from the NOLA-PS school district and its school board meeting.

Of the more than 13,500 public school students and staff that participated in New Orleans' new COVID-19 testing program last week, about 1% tested positive, the district said Monday in its first data update since Hurricane Ida made landfall on Aug. 29.

New Orleans Public Schools is tracking a total of 34 active coronavirus cases, 7 staff and 27 students, across 19 schools. An additional 33 people are in quarantine due to possible exposure.

Since the district last updated its tracker on Aug. 23, 333 cumulative cases have been reported, according to the district.

Testing significantly dropped across the state due to Ida, but began to pick back up last week. In New Orleans, the district launched its own surveillance testing program last week with the Louisiana Department of Health and more than 90 schools participating.

While testing is still voluntary at most schools, at least half a dozen campuses required students to get tested before returning to the classroom.

Not all students have returned to in-person learning since Ida battered the city and southeast Louisiana. Twenty nine campuses remained closed Friday due to storm damage, though some have already resumed classes online rather than lose additional instructional days. The vast majority of schools are expected to resume classes either in-person or virtually no later than Wednesday, according to the district.

“This is the best way to help ensure we keep the coronavirus out of our school community,” NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a Monday press release. “We are doing well, but we need to continue to battle this pandemic with all the resources we have.”

The numbers represent a significant decline since the beginning of the school year, when a record number of cases and quarantines were reported, peaking at 453 and 4,657 respectively. But while last week’s data could suggest the state’s unprecedented fourth surge is slowing down, the district’s current school data offers a limited picture.

The district has more test data to go off of than ever before, but this week’s numbers also are likely incomplete. The press release itself notes that “there may be a lag time in reporting due to the timeframe in which families notify their schools regarding test results among students.”

The district has more test data to go off of than ever before, but last week’s numbers are still likely incomplete. “There may be a lag time in reporting due to the timeframe in which families notify their schools regarding test results among students,” the district said in its press release.

Cases may also be underreported at this point due to communication delays between individual schools and the district. Steve Corbett, CEO of Audubon Charter School, told New Orleans Public Radio mandatory testing at its three campuses last week identified multiple positive COVID cases, but as of Monday’s report, they were not included in the district’s tracker.

Corbett said he wasn’t sure where the disconnect stemmed from exactly, but that it could be a problem on their end because the charter’s nursing staff only returned to campus Monday. The district did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story’s initial publication but said Tuesday that delays can occur at any stage in the reporting process.

CORE Response New Orleans conducts district-wide COVID testing at three sites per week, while Omega Diagnostics provides testing for schools participating in the state’s onsite testing program. Both providers “experience lag times” when reporting results to schools, district spokesperson Taslin Alfonzo said in an email. “In turn, schools report their results to NOLA-PS.”

“Additional lag time comes in because the district asks schools to not only report test results, but also to do contact tracing when they identify a case, and communicate the information they’ve learned with families. There is a lot of groundwork schools cover before they report the information to NOLA-PS,” Alfonzo said, noting that the district’s tracker offers a weekly snapshot and that NOLA-PS receives data daily.

This is the first time the district has had a positivity rate to go off of since the start of the pandemic, though it only represents a limited subset of the student and teacher population. The vast majority of students were not included in last week’s testing efforts due to school closures and other accessibility issues, as well as the voluntary nature of many school-based testing programs.

Not all students have returned to in-person learning since Ida battered the city and southeast Louisiana. Twenty-nine buildings remained closed Friday due to storm damage, though some have already resumed classes online rather than lose additional instructional days.

The vast majority of schools were expected to resume classes either in-person or virtually no later than Wednesday, but with just one day left until the projected back-to-school deadline, some campuses were not yet cleared for in-person learning, Jeanie Decuers, the district’s executive director of capital improvement, told school board members Tuesday.

Four schools awaiting environmental clearance received it last week, Decuers said, while another 16 are still awaiting approval but should be advised to reopen by the end of this week.

Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio