Mobile County public schools go online because of COVID-19

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n this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 file photo, Students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

Alabama’s largest public school district, Mobile County, said it will switch to virtual classes Monday because so many staffers have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19 it’s difficult to keep buildings open.

The district, with more than 53,000 students and 7,200 employees in the state’s southwest corner, joins more than 30 other systems statewide that have opted for online learning since classes resumed because of a surge in illness as the highly contagious omicron variant spread quickly.

At least 17 systems announced moves to online teaching Wednesday or Thursday, according to a list maintained by the state.

Roughly a quarter of the state’s public school students, or more than 200,000 children, have shifted to online classes since 2022 began, yet only a handful of the largest systems require face masks, which health experts say can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, al.com reported. The state Health Department recommends everyone wear a mask at school.

More than 16,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported this week in Alabama schools, including more than 600 in Mobile County schools, among the highest in the state, according to data compiled by the state education and health agencies. Some districts reported even more cases, with Montgomery and Baldwin counties highest in the state with more than 800 cases each.

In Mobile County, the crush of new cases combined with school staff missing work because they’re sick or quarantining at home has meant there are too few adults to operate at times.

“Our number of cases has increased, making it difficult to staff many of our schools. Based on today’s numbers, I feel it is best for the health and safety of all students and employees for the entire district to move to virtual learning for the week of January 18 – 21, 2022,” said a letter sent to parents Thursday from Superintendent Chresal Threadgill.

More than 16,640 people have died of COVID-19 in Alabama, giving the state the nation’s third-highest death rate during the pandemic, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Less than half of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, among the lowest in the nation, making it easier for the illness to spread.

Over the past two weeks, the rolling average of daily new cases has increased in the state by 4,907, or about 135%. One in every 82 people in Alabama tested positive in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

More than 2,000 people are hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, the most since the delta variant caused a wave of sickness and death in the fall.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.