Community spread of COVID-19 worsens as CMS plans to bring more students into class

Annie Ma
·3 min read

Closely watched measures of COVID-19’s community spread in Mecklenburg County continued to trend in the wrong direction, even as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools prepares to bring more students back for in-person learning in the coming weeks.

In the district’s Monday update on public health and operational metrics, data released by CMS showed more students and teachers testing positive for the virus, in addition to worsening measures of community spread.

In the past week, 30 students and 60 school district employees tested positive for the coronavirus, chief school performance officer Kathy Elling said.

““We are monitoring our statistics closely in conversation with the health department,” Elling said. “We would strongly urge everyone in the community to follow the protocols in place, which are wear a face covering, wash your hands and stay social distanced.”

Both the positivity rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period rose sharply compared with the previous weeks. The number of coronavirust tests that are found to be positive increased from 7.5% last week to 8.8% as of Monday’s update, which is in the district’s “moderate community spread” range.

The number of new cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period jumped from 158.4 last week to 200.4 on Monday. That measure has been in the district’s “red zone,” indicating significant community spread for more than a month. District officials have emphasized that no one metric would trigger a decision to roll back in-person learning, though its guidelines say it will consider remote learning when one of the community spread metrics is in the red for more than 14 days.

As of Monday, 76 schools have had a positive case within in the past two weeks. No school-based clusters, or five cases linked to one another, have been reported in the district, Elling said.

More students slated to come back

The district plans to bring back more students for in-person learning Nov. 30. Currently, only elementary, pre-K and some students with disabilities are attending in-person classes. Elementary school students are rotating through two days a week of classroom instruction, while pre-K and students with special needs are getting in-person instruction daily.

Students enrolled in middle school grades at the district’s K-8 schools will return for in-person instruction Nov. 30. They will follow the rotational schedule of the elementary schools.

The district originally planned to bring all middle school students back for in-person instruction Monday, but a shortage of bus drivers meant students would have to endure long waits that could interrupt the classroom schedule.

Transportation Executive Director Adam Johnson said CMS would not be able to cover those routes without violating the state’s social distancing guidelines, which require buses to operate at one-third their usual capacity.

CMS’s percentage of routes staffed is currently at 83%, slightly below the 84% coverage the district reported when it decided to delay middle school in-person instruction due to transportation concerns.

Currently, CMS plans to bring students in traditional middle schools that serve sixth through eighth grades back to in-person learning on Jan. 5, using the time until then to reassess the district’s transportation plan. The district has asked families who can provide transportation to not use the bus system this year. Families have until Nov. 30 to complete a transportation survey indicating whether they will need transportation this year.