Parents in Atlanta area district plan second rally for masks

August 17, 2021 GMT

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Parents in Georgia’s second largest school district plan to rally again to try to force school officials to require masks amid a statewide surge in coronavirus cases that has disrupted classroom instruction for thousands of Georgia students.

The plans for a rally on Thursday by Cobb County school parents come as coronavirus cases in the Cobb County school system and other districts around the state continue to rise.

Cobb County has more than 100,000 students. District figures show 551 overall school-based cases of COVID-19 as of Aug. 13, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which reported plans for the new rally Tuesday. Dozens of Cobb County residents rallied last week for a mask mandate for students and staff. They were met by roughly two dozen protesters who want masks to remain optional in the district.

School Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn told the newspaper he does not anticipate any discussion on modifying the district’s COVID-19 safety rules at a school board meeting scheduled to be held after the rally. And he defended a school board member who sent a parent false information about masks in response to criticism about the district’s COVID-19 policies.

Other districts in the state are also facing COVID challenges. Henry County schools, south of Atlanta, reported 245 positive cases as of Monday, with another 800-plus students quarantined. The district has more than 40,000 students and has switched to requiring masks.

At Valdosta-based Lowndes County schools, 175 students have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 226 students have been quarantined due to school exposure, the Valdosta Daily Times reported.

At least 15 school districts or charter schools have sent all students home, with Johnson, McIntosh and Turner counties announcing closures Monday or Tuesday. Those fifteen districts have nearly 30,000 students combined, about 1.7% of statewide public school enrollment. Jefferson Davis County announced it would switch to an A/B schedule beginning Monday where only half the students attend on any given day.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday reiterated his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates and said he has no plans for statewide school restrictions, adding that schools faced similar challenges last year.

“A lot of schools had to deal with an initial surge and kind of fighting through that, and every school is going to have to deal with that differently,” he said at a news conference. “I’m trusting them to do that.”

Georgia’s coronavirus case count is soaring, fueled by the much more contagious delta variant among people who have not been vaccinated. Only 41% of Georgia’s population is fully vaccinated, well below the national average.

Kemp on Monday announced more state-funded staffing for hospitals, which have had to turn patients away amid a crush of COVID-19 cases. There were 4,600 patients hospitalized statewide Tuesday, the worst since late January, and almost 90% of intensive care beds were in use. More than 40 hospitals statewide Tuesday were turning away patients from their emergency room or intensive care unit.

The state’s seven-day average of new cases climbed to more than 7,000 on Tuesday, a figure last seen during a winter surge. On Tuesday, the state recorded its 1 millionth case confirmed by a molecular test. Georgia has recorded nearly 1.3 million cases overall, including with antigen tests, the usual standard for counting nationwide.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who reinstituted a mask mandate last month, said Monday the city was close to cancelling events and implementing additional restrictions to combat the surge, the Savannah Morning News reported.

“We tried to do what we could with minimal disruption, but it appears not to be working as we had hoped,” he said. He added, “It’s unfortunate that those who have done the right and necessary thing have to suffer because the majority chooses not to do what’s necessary.”

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.