1,865 in Cobb schools test positive this week, a record this school year

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Jan. 21—Cobb County School District on Friday resumed its publication of the number of coronavirus cases among students and staff.

District-wide, 1,856 students or staffers tested positive in the past week, a record this school year. The previous weekly record this academic year was set Aug. 27, when the district reported 1,033 new cases.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the district has made those numbers available on its website, updating them every Friday when class was in session. Before Friday, however, the district had not updated its case count since Dec. 17, the Friday before winter holidays.

District case numbers published Friday did not include a school-by-school tally of active cases, as it had in the past; instead, the district's coronavirus tracker "will now post the weekly total of all confirmed cases," according to district spokeswoman Nan Kiel.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale pointed to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, in explaining his rationale for the pause and subsequent change.

"Dr. Fauci was quoted as saying as you get further on, and the infections get less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations, as opposed to the total number of cases," Ragsdale said during Thursday's school board meeting. "So we are taking the guidance to not focus on case counts."

Ragsdale said the change "is going to be a multi-step process that will eventually see no numbers being reported on our webpage after the omicron variant goes through," though the district will "still report as required to (the state Department of Public Health)."

The Department of Public Health publishes on its website county-wide coronavirus numbers, broken down by age range, in its "School Aged Surveillance Report." That report shows that infections have been declining for Cobb residents between 0 and 4 years old over the past two weeks, but have been increasing for Cobb residents between 5 and 17 years old.

Asked what Ragsdale meant when he said the district would cease publication of coronavirus numbers "after the omicron variant goes through," district spokeswoman Nan Kiel provided the following statement:

"The specifics of exactly how and when the multi-step process will be determined as COVID-19's impact continues to evolve. What is known for certain, is our focus and attention needs to remain on teaching, learning, and student needs that far surpass the effects of COVID-19."

Ragsdale said some coronavirus mitigation efforts in schools "are damaging to students," perhaps more damaging than the virus itself. He pointed to a December report from the U.S. Surgeon General that found one quarter "of all American youth are showing symptoms of depression."

"The bottom line is that we're having school," he continued. "We're trying to get back to normal as quickly as possible, because we know that a normal school day for our students is what is going to benefit them most."

The superintendent's presentation prompted a terse exchange between board member Dr. Jaha Howard and Chairman David Chastain. Howard and the board's two other Democrats have in recent months voted against adopting proposed meeting agendas, as the agendas did not include time to discuss coronavirus cases or mitigation policies in the district.

Howard asked Chastain at Thursday's meeting whether he could question the superintendent over details shared during his presentation.

"If you have any questions, you can call the superintendent," Chastain said.

"You don't think that that's a bit disgusting, that we've been waiting to talk about this for a long time," Howard said, before he was cut off by Chastain.

"We're going to move forward with the agenda," Chastain said.