CDC, local district study finds teachers may play key role in COVID-19 transmission

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A new study has found that teachers may play a more major role than students in transmitting COVID-19 within schools.

Marietta City Schools was one of three districts in the country that partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study how the virus is spread in schools.

The paper released Monday studied nine COVID-19 transmission clusters in elementary schools in the district in December and January. That included one cluster where 16 teachers, students and relatives of students at home were infected.

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Marietta City Schools was ideal for the study because of its size and proximity to the CDC. Superintendent Grant Rivera told Channel 2′s Lori Wilson that transparency is vital and that’s why he welcomed CDC investigators into his classrooms to study how COVID-19 is spread and how to prevent it in schools.

“Once upon a time you would say to a staff member make sure to look for COVID and look for COVID safety protocols,” he said.

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Rivera said with the help of the CDC, the school did extensive testing, daily contact tracing in three languages and then looked at how classrooms were set up.

They learned transmission is the highest in elementary classrooms. Rivera said the classrooms need to be reimagined and also look at how teachers can play a critical role in stopping the spread.

“The transmission that occurs in the school building, we see more patterns from adult to adult,” Rivera said. “So it was adults eating lunch together. Teachers are like family and in COVID-19 we have to be more intentional about how we separate them.”

The president of the Georgia Association of Educators responded to the study by saying in part:

“The CDC study of Marietta City elementary schools sadly confirms what GAE has been saying all along with regard to in-person instruction in our public schools. The study showed that unless the CDC guidelines and mitigation strategies are followed and enforced to the letter, the incidence of spread among all categories – child to child, child to educator, educator to educator, and all categories to family members, will definitely still occur,” GAE President Lisa Morgan said. Marietta City’s attempt to follow the mitigation strategies illustrates just how difficult they are to follow without the resources necessary to implement and enforce with fidelity. The study spoke to ‘less than ideal physical distancing,’ and ‘inadequate mask use by students.’ We know that, unfortunately, these two conditions exist in a great many of our school buildings every day. We must prioritize the health and safety of our students, educators, and their families with full implementation of the CDC’s essential mitigation strategies.”

Wilson also spoke with parents who are happy about the steps the district has taken. Justin Gilland said the district notified his family immediately when COVID-19 cases popped up and about the study.

“From the top down, they really kept us informed and we were excited to know that our kids were a part of that,” Gilland said.

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Channel 2′s Chris Jose also got a look Monday at the district’s new testing facility as the districted returned from winter break.

The site is available for students, teachers and their families. It’s all drive-thru style, patients pull up for the registration process and get tested a few minutes later.

“I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any type of virus. That would spread to my students,” Burruss Elementary teacher Sophia Morton said.

The board of education approved the new partnership between Marietta City Schools and Peachtree Immediate Care. Registration, charting and lab processing are all done on site with both PCR and rapid antigen tests available.

“I mean to stop the spread, you have to identify those who are positive in the community and the only to do so is through testing,” physician Miranda Stone said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.