Bright spots: 3 Deep South districts are seeing declines in kids with COVID

Iowa's ban on mask mandates is the latest to be blocked in court
By: | September 14, 2021
Effingham County Schools' schools COVID tracker shows a steep decline in cases.Effingham County Schools' schools COVID tracker shows a steep decline in cases.

Some states and districts, including in the hard-hit South where schools opened earliest, are finally reporting declines in COVID cases among students and staff.

COVID outbreaks closed dozens of schools and districts in the Deep South in August. But after a wave of closures and mask mandates, the crisis may be ebbing, at least in some communities.

Cases have been declining in Alabama’s Birmingham City Schools over the last four weeks, ABC3340.com reported.

The district has mandated masks and has been holding vaccination clinics in its middle and high schools, according to ABC3340.com.

“We’ve been trying to be real aggressive in how we approach COVID,” Superintendent Mark Sullivan told the station.

In South Carolina, Beaufort County School District last week saw its lowest number of cases since the school year began on Aug. 16, according to IslandPacket.com.

Between Sept. 6 and 12, the district recorded 179 new student infections compared to 236 the previous week, IslandPacket.com reported.

Despite the decline, one of its the district’s buildings, Whale Branch Middle School, has shifted to remote learning until Sept. 2o because 50% of its students are in quarantine.

Unique testing approach

Several schools in Northern California are handing out home COVID test kits in a pilot program to prevent the spread of the virus in classrooms, the Marin Independent Journal reports.

Officials hope the experiment will be particularly effective in protecting students under 12 who are yet eligible for a vaccine. “If it’s negative, we can get them back to school once their symptoms are gone,” Larkspur-Corte Madera School District Superintendent Brett Geithman told the Journal. “If it’s positive, we can start contact tracing efforts right away—much faster than with the traditional PCR tests, which are delayed for several days.”

Cases are also declining “drastically” in Effingham County Schools in Georgia, after the district hit a peak three weeks ago and masks were mandated on Aug. 20, WTOC.com reported.

More than 300 student cases each were reported during the weeks of Aug. 16 and Aug 23.

“That number was certainly higher than we ever expected, and it was higher than any week that we experienced last year,” Superintendent Yancy Ford told WTOP.com.

But only 58 student cases were recorded in Effingham County Schools last week, according to the district’s COVID tracker.

Indiana’s COVID dashboard is showing the first decline in student COVID cases since the beginning of the school year, IndyStar.com reported. However, about 630 schools have not filed COVID reports with the state.

Where schools opened in late August and September, districts are grappling with rising cases, quarantines and closures. A handful of districts in Montana have shut down this due to outbreaks.

Mask mandate struck down

Iowa’s ban on mask mandates is the latest to be blocked in court. A federal judge on Monday ruled the ban could not be enforced by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration because it “substantially increases” the risk of students with underlying medical conditions becoming severely ill or dying from COVID, the Associated Press reported.

A group of parents and advocates for students with disabilities sued the governor on Sept. 3, according to the AP.

Arizona’s ban on mask mandates in schools and other public places is also being challenged in court this week, the AP reported.

And while only a few districts have mandate vaccines for students, one infectious disease expert says such requirements may be the only way for schools to continue offering large-scale in-person instruction.

“So far, we’ve not seen a lot of COVID vaccine mandates, even for the teenagers,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Tuesday. “It’s gonna have to happen if we’re going to get kids through the school year.”