More Louisiana schoolchildren reported testing positive for the deadly coronavirus last week than during any week last school year, which ended in May.
It’s yet another indicator of the alarming prevalence of the virus, particularly the more infectious delta variant that has come to dominate the state.
The Louisiana Department of Health released this information Wednesday in a weekly report on COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools. That reporting was suspended over the summer but has resumed with the start of the 2021-22 school year.
The state health agency plans to resume similar reports next week for colleges and universities.
Overall, 2,094 students in elementary and secondary schools reported to their schools between Aug. 9 and Sunday that they’d contracted the virus. The previous peak was 1,738 in the first week in January, which was also the peak of the third wave of the virus to hit Louisiana.
The new numbers stand out because only 528 public and private schools in Louisiana participated in the survey. That’s roughly three out of 10 schools in the state. The remaining 1,200-plus schools in the state didn't report.
The new data mirrors new record case counts among school-age children in the state, also released Wednesday. A total of 5,637 children ages 5 to 17 tested positive during the week that ended Aug. 11. That’s 510 cases more than the week before and more than double than the peak of the previous wave of cases, also set in the first week of January.
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Participation was notably greater in the past, but it's unclear how much more. That’s because the state health agency is now releasing how many schools report any information at all in a given week. Last year, it released only the number of schools in any given week that had enrolled in the state’s K-12 reporting system, whether they participated that week or not.
It's unclear how many schools were enrolled last year, but were not participating. But it's clear that more schools were participating in the past.
For instance, only 43 out of the state’s 64 parishes had schools reporting cases in their schools. In the first week of January, 57 out of the state’s 64 parishes had schools reporting cases.
St. Tammany topped the state last week with 303 students testing positive, nine shy of its previous record. It also topped the state with 53 of its staff members testing positive. It had 56 of its schools reporting.
Orleans had the second most cases among students, 262, which was three times as many as its previous peak of 82 students, during the first week last December. Sixty-nine of its schools reported data.
Lafayette had 67 cases among students (11th in state) and 37 among staff (3rd in state). That's from 29 schools reporting.
DeSoto, Jefferson, Lafourche, St. Bernard, St. Mary, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes all reported far more cases in a week than they ever had before.
Schools in Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes also reported high, though not record, numbers of students testing positive of 129 and 108, respectively. They had 27 and 31 schools reporting, respectively.
Livingston Parish reported just 19 students testing positive for the virus, but had only nine schools reporting.
These high numbers of cases start Aug. 9, a week after Gov. John Bel Edwards reimposed a mask mandate for those gathering indoors, including those in K-12 schools.
The numbers also come after many educators and students have at least started their vaccinations. As of Monday, nearly 32% of 12- to 17-year-olds had received at least one vaccination shot.
Also, many schools in Louisiana educated students only part of last week.
Nevertheless, even with universal masking, schools may be at more risk since almost all schools have shifted to full in-person instruction and away from the virtual instruction which was much more common last year.