Cobb school superintendent: ‘No metrics’ for COVID closures

Cobb school superintendent COVID closures

Cobb school superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Thursday that decisions on closing classrooms or schools in the district due to COVID-19 cases are being addressed on a “case by case” basis.

During a Cobb Board of Education work session, Ragsdale said “there are no metrics” for determining those decisions, unlike countywide public health data he relied on this summer.

No classrooms or schools in the Cobb County School District have closed since students returned for face-to-face learning in October and early November.

Ragsdale said “I’m not looking to take the district back to 100 percent virtual,” a reference to some online speculation that such an option was being considered.

He said there was a school that posed enough of concern about COVID cases that Cobb and Douglas Public Health was asked examine case data there.

He said when contact tracing details revealed no “linkage” between cases, the decision was made to keep open the school, which he did not identify.

“There is not going to be trigger or a number or a level,” Ragsdale said in response to a question by school board member Charisse Davis about how possible closings are being addressed.

He said that he’s in regular contact with Cobb and Douglas Public Health, which has concluded that the schools are not spreaders of the virus, compared to restaurants, churches and other activities and events indoors.

A case-by-case approach is a different criteria than what Ragsdale had used in keeping schools online at the start of the school year, and then gradually reopening for in-person learning.

In the late summer he said that overall COVID cases in Cobb needed to drop to a 14-day average of 200 people per 100,000 population. At that point, that average was in the 300s.

“We are in a different time than we were in the summer,” Ragsdale said. “We have to be adaptable in this process.”

The district has been updating COVID-19 case figures every Friday. As of last week 328 of the 610 reported cases since July 1 have occurred since students returned to schools.

Last week’s total of 105 cases was the biggest one-week jump since students returned, and came two weeks after the return of high school students, the final phase of the reopening.

There were 53 schools that had reported cases last week, including 13 of 17 high school campuses.

The school district updates those figures at this link every Friday.

Ragsdale didn’t refer to any of that in his remarks, but urged parents to visit the district’s website for “factual” information about COVID information and protocols, instead of social media.

That sparked a testy exchange between Ragsdale and board member Jaha Howard, who thought that suggestion “does not seem sufficient, not by a longshot.”

Parents of students in the Cobb school district have until Nov. 29 to decide spring semester learning options, and Ragsdale said there could be another window in the spring due to rising cases expected over the winter.

“We’re seeing cases spike up but not in the schools,” Ragsdale said.

Earlier in the fall, Cobb’s overall 14-day average of cases per 100,000 fell briefly to under 100, which is considered high community spread. But that number has been steadily been going up since October, and as of Thursday it stood at 244.

Howard said this was the first he was hearing “that we’re not using those data points” and asked that board members get communications with data that is being utilized, instead of just going to the district’s website.

Then board member Randy Scamihorn interrupted, and Howard objected, and chairman Brad Wheeler upheld Howard’s complaint.

Howard said he was frustrated that not only as a board member but as a parent that he didn’t know more than what was on the district’s website.

Ragsdale told him that “there is a lot of uncertainty that we’re dealing with on a daily basis,” and that he was reluctant to disclose the possibility of another choice window in the spring, since that information that will be bandied about on social media and elsewhere.

He said while no decision has been made about that, it is still being considered, and that not all discussions within the superintendent’s cabinet are for public consumption.

Ragsdale has been a frequent critic of social media, and in recent days chatter on some social media platforms has included claims that the district’s COVID-19 case counts are being underreported.

At every school that has reported COVID cases, the district maintains that fewer that 10 cases have occurred in each week of reporting. The only exception is Harrison High School, which reported exactly 10 cases last week.

Ragsdale said that with Thanksgiving coming up next week and the holiday season approaching, all school district families will be getting a “symptom letter” on Friday written by Cobb and Douglas Public Health urging students and staff who have COVID symptoms to stay home.

It’s part of a message of caution Ragsdale said is needed “to maintain our due diligence during the holidays.

“We can be thankful but at the same time we need to be cautiously thankful.”

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