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School Nurse Maudry Durand, RN, demonstrates the PPE she will wear around students in the isolation room, a room students will go to if they are suspected of having Covid-19 symptoms, during a tour of Ossun Elementary School to show media and school board members the measures that have been put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 Tuesday, September 1, 2020, in the community of Ossun, La.

Novel coronavirus case numbers in Acadiana schools are rising in accordance with a spike in cases in communities around the state, illustrating officials’ warnings that what happens in communities will be mirrored in schools.

On Friday, the state reported 4,296 more confirmed coronavirus cases, the bulk of which were attributed to a backlog from Sept. 12 to Nov. 8. Non-backlogged cases totaled 1,758. In Region 4, comprising seven parishes in the Acadiana area, week over week case data and hospitalization trends point to a COVID-19 surge similar to that seen in June and July.

Region 4 Medical Director Dr. Tina Stefanski and other officials have warned that what happens in the community will trickle down to the schools.

As some schools have shifted to virtual learning or canceled extracurriculars in the last two weeks, area superintendents have bemoaned out-of-school gatherings, like non-school sponsored homecoming events and Halloween parties, for contributing to case growth seen in schools, they said.

“What happens in the schools is going to be a reflection of what’s happening in the community… So no matter how hard the schools work to keep those children safe and avoid transmission on campus, what is bound to happen is that outside of school there’s going to be increased transmission and then you’re going to see that reflected and see potential spread on the campus,” Stefanski said in an August interview.

The picture of COVID-19 cases in individual schools is murky, but the state’s health and education agencies provide some insight with a weekly data report on the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 outbreaks homepage. The state health agency issued a September emergency order requiring all Pre-K-12 public, private and charter schools to report positive COVID-19 cases among students and on-campus adults to a centralized database.

Lafayette Parish, with 65 participating schools, reported 57 new COVID-19 cases among students between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15, second only to Ouachita Parish, which reported 62 new student cases. The new case additions make up roughly 30% of the 185 total student cases reported in Lafayette Parish schools since classes resumed, state data shows.

That percentage was also mirrored in adult cases: 24 new adult cases were reported in Lafayette Parish schools, bringing the total case count to 78.

In that same time frame, St. Thomas More Catholic High School and Southside High School closed their doors to in-person learning and shifted all students online after outbreaks on campus. Nine students tested positive at St. Thomas More, per an email from school administrators.

David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy followed suit this week, announcing all students would shift to virtual learning Wednesday after a large number of students were placed on quarantine after exposure to someone testing COVID-19 positive.

The Lafayette Parish School System did not provide specifics on the number of positive cases at either DTSMA or Southside High.

LPSS Superintendent Irma Trosclair sent a letter to families Wednesday calling for cooperation and community adherence to mitigation measures in and out of school to ensure students can continue with in-person classes.

“While decisions may not be popular, they are made with much consideration, deliberation and in collaboration with state officials and health authorities. It is our students who will suffer long-lasting consequences if we are forced to close schools for extended periods of time,” Trosclair said in the letter.

St. Landry Parish has seen student cases nearly double in both of the last two reporting cycles, rising from a total of 20 cases to 41 cases and now 75 cases. The corresponding single-week case additions spiked accordingly, rising from between one to four new cases between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1 to 20 new cases the following week and 34 new cases the week after that, state data shows.

Opelousas High and Beau Chene High School had to cancel football because of case numbers.

Like Lafayette Parish, St. Landry’s schools have seen comparable growth in the number of adult cases in schools; in the last reporting week, St. Landry added 19 adult cases, more than doubling the total number of adult cases in just one week. The total now stands at 37 adult cases.

Other Region 4 parishes have also seen case growth in schools, with most recording between 22% and 42% of their total student case numbers from Nov. 9 to Nov. 15.

Acadia Parish added 23 new student cases, St. Martin Parish reported 18 new student cases and Vermilion Parish recorded 13 new student cases -- the most student cases in one week for each of the parishes. Total student cases for the three parishes currently stand at 63, 43 and 49, respectively.

Erath High School in Vermilion switched to virtual learning in response to a campus outbreak.

In Evangeline Parish, the number of new student cases for Nov. 9 to Nov. 15, 13, was slightly down from the week prior, when 21 new cases were reported. Total student cases for the parish now stand at 58.

Adult cases in schools grew similarly in most of the parishes between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15; Acadia reported seven new cases, for a total of 27; Evangeline added 11 new cases, for a total of 26; and Vermilion recorded eight new cases, for a total of 19.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com