Due to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, the Fulton County Schools district is sticking with online classes for the week of Jan. 11 through 15 after originally planning to return to in-person instruction then.

In a Jan. 8 news release, the district announced its students will not return to on-campus classes until Jan. 19, one day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

“Over the winter break, district leadership closely monitored COVID-19 developments and consulted with state and local public health officials,” the release stated. “We are now facing a post-holiday surge of positive cases impacting our ability to sufficiently operate schools; local hospitals report they are near or at capacity, and new information has been shared about vaccination availability to school personnel. These developments have all been part of the decision-making process leading to this delay.”

In his COVID-19 pandemic update at the Fulton County Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 6 meeting, Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International, an emergency management firm working with the county, said he was concerned about the recent increase in virus cases.

“Dec. 1 through Jan. 4, we have gone up 140% in cases,” he said of Fulton’s cases. “Seven-day average is 540 cases a day in Fulton County. … Georgia is rising at an even steeper rate than Fulton County, up to a seven-day average of 6,321 cases a day.”

The district spent most of the first semester having in-person classes and planned to return to that format Jan. 11 after switching all grade levels to virtual instruction Dec. 16 through 18, the final three days of the first semester.

When the second semester was to start Jan. 6, the strategy was to have all students participate in online classes Jan. 6 through 8 before having elementary students return to in-person classes Jan. 11 and middle and high school students having online instruction Jan. 11 and 12 before shifting back to face-to-face classes Jan. 13. Students who wanted to remain with online instruction can do so.

But the jump in cases caused the district to change course on its plan.

The district also announced its employees who qualify to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting Jan. 11, an expanded Phase 1A group that includes health service workers, school police officers and workers over 65, will have the opportunity to get inoculated voluntarily. The district’s remaining employees can get the vaccine once the Phase 1B rollout begins, but a date has not been set yet.

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