Metro Atlanta school district contact tracing before school starts again

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Students in metro Atlanta are scheduled to return to school in just a few days, and thousands plan to be in the classroom.

Channel 2′s Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose was in Marietta, where, as of now, students are scheduled to return next Tuesday. Families have the option of sending students to in-person or virtual learning.

With the big decision coming up for parents, the city school system made it a priority to contact trace during winter break.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus Pandemic in Georgia]

“We’re making every reasonable effort to contact trace all throughout break so they could have peace of mind as we look at a potential return in January,” Superintendent Grant Rivera said. “Quite candidly, COVID doesn’t care about winter break.”

Rivera said the district has reached out to 38 staff members and 160 families since the start of the holiday break.

Rivera said that just before Christmas, the team contacted 24 families after one positive case at a school the week before. Rivera said he wanted to make sure families knew about the direct exposure before they gathered with their loved ones.

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Margaret Nunez, a school nurse on the contact tracing team for Marietta City Schools, works at Westside Elementary. She wants the community to realize one thing: COVID-19 is a real threat.

“It’s been sort of a frustrating time for health care professionals,” Nunez said. “Because it is real. And it’s still spreading and we all have the ability to do something about it.”

Nunez has been on the phone during winter break, calling families and staff members who were possibly exposed to someone with COVID-19. She said the reactions to her calls have been mixed.

“It really runs the gamut,” Nunez said. “Some of them are like, ‘Oh, darn. I knew this would come at some point.’ Some of them are upset with us, honestly.”

Now, Rivera is looking ahead to the start of second semester. With community spread so high in Cobb County, Rivera said they are considering whether or not to have kids in the classroom carefully.

“We’re doing it as we continue to move through the winter break and look potentially at the first day of school, making sure we know who should and should not be back in the building,” Rivera said.

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control suggests that in-school COVID-19 transmission remains relatively low. However, high community spread has sparked concerns about the virus getting into school buildings.

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