Local schools struggle with COVID as health experts warn of impact on children
By Wes Tomlinson
For the Enquirer
Many local schools continue to struggle with a large number of student COVID-19 infections, according to data released this past week, and health experts report they are concerned about the long-term effects of the disease on children and the extent to which even undiagnosed students are spreading the virus.
COVID cases and exposures continue to increase in Morgan County Schools, with 398 students and staff reported positive in a weekly report released Friday and another 337 in quarantine because of close contact with an infected person.
Decatur City Schools reported 128 active COVID cases among students Friday, down from 131 a week earlier. There were 73 symptomatic students awaiting test results, down from 86 the previous week.
The number of staff with confirmed cases of COVID had increased to 17, up from 13 the previous week.
The schools with the highest number of infected students in Decatur were Austin High with 19, the same as the previous week; Decatur High with 17, up from 12; Austin Junior High with 17, down from 37; and Decatur Middle with 14, down from 27.
Deputy Superintendent Dwight Satterfield said Benjamin Davis Elementary went virtual Thursday and will resume in-person classes sometime this week.
Oak Park Elementary had the highest number of staff testing positive for the virus, with 8 percent in quarantine.
Lawrence County Schools on Friday reported a sharp drop in confirmed cases compared to the previous week. Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said 19 students and staff had confirmed cases of COVID, down from 132 a week earlier.
He said Moulton Middle had two cases as of Friday, down from 25 the previous week. Lawrence County High had four confirmed cases, down from 18 the previous week, and East Lawrence Middle had three confirmed cases, down from six the previous week.
Both Moulton Middle and Lawrence County High resumed in-person classes Monday after being virtual the previous week.
Some school systems have begun reporting the number of confirmed COVID cases to the Alabama Department of Public Health for use in its online dashboard. Limestone County reported 222 confirmed cases to ADPH. The previous week, according to school officials, 209 students and staff tested positive and 124 were symptomatic and awaiting test results.
Athens City Schools Friday reported 70 confirmed cases of COVID among students and staff.
Hartselle City Schools Superintendent Dr. Dee Dee Jones said 58 students and staff tested positive for the coronavirus this past week.
Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers, a pediatrician, on Thursday said the delta variant is having a more prolonged impact on some infected school-age children than earlier versions of the virus.
Landers said cases in children are different this year because of the presence of “long COVID.” Children with long COVID have complications such as brain fog, inability to concentrate, sleeping issues and fatigue.
“Last year, kids did well with COVID-19 and didn’t have to be hospitalized,” Landers said at a news conference Thursday. “This year, 6-10 percent of kids may have long COVID.”
Landers said 24.8 percent of COVID cases in the past four weeks have been pediatric cases.
“I am concerned about the significant numbers of children with positive cases in the state of Alabama,” she said.
Landers said she encourages parents to have their children ages 12 and older vaccinated.
She said children who test positive need to isolate for a full 10 days.
Suzanne Judd, a professor and epidemiologist in the UAB School of Public Health, said she suspects far more children have the virus than have been tested for it, and she worries they are spreading it to others.
“Those (young) folks are less likely to be in the hospital,” Judd said. “So we have tons and tons of cases, a much higher level of cases than we would guess, but they’re in really young people.
“We don’t know what that means in terms of what’s going to happen in the future. Is this just the first wave? Will they then give COVID to their parents, who might be susceptible? To grandparents? How does young people having COVID in September influence what happens to us in October?”
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said there were more than 9,000 COVID cases in Alabama public schools in the week ending Aug. 27.
He said anytime a student tests positive, the parents should report it to the school nurse.
“We’ve been getting reports that there are parents in Alabama who are taking their kids to get tested, which comes back positive,” Mackey said, “then they take the kids back to school without notifying us.”