Pierce, Charlton county students test positive for COVID-19 after first day back

PIERCE COUNTY, Ga. – A Pierce County High School student who was sent home sick on the first day of school Monday tested positive for COVID-19, district officials said. An elementary school student in Charlton County has also tested positive for COVID-19 following the first day of school, the school district informed parents Tuesday afternoon.

In a Facebook post, the Pierce County School District acknowledged the case of coronavirus, saying all parents of students who were in close contact with the sick teen had been notified.

A Pierce County High School student said he’s not returning anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t recommend not wearing a mask there. Especially with that there and how fast it can go through,” student Jeffrey Huff said.

Huff started his junior year of high school in person on Monday, but after a student tested positive for COVID-19 he’s planning on switching to online learning.

Huff said his mother is fighting a serious health condition and he won’t risk second-hand exposure.

Of the district’s more than 3,400 students, Pierce County Superintendent Dara Bennett said about 85% of students returned to brick-and-mortar on the first day while the rest chose the online option.

Students who were exposed to the infected student were told to follow the Georgia Department of Public Health’s quarantine guidelines and to monitor symptoms for 14 days.

“Your child’s safety is of utmost importance to us. Pierce County Schools will notify you in the event your child has been exposed to COVID-19 at school,” the district wrote. “We ask for your help by monitoring your child’s symptoms each morning and keep them home if they are sick.”

On Wednesday, the district also confirmed a bus driver tested positive for the virus.

Bennett said the driver has been in quarantine and has not worked this week. 

“The driver will follow DPH guidelines for returning to work,” Bennett wrote in an email to News4Jax. “Since the driver has not been at work since school started back, there is no concern of exposure to any students.”

In nearby Charlton County, the school district said a student at Folkston Elementary School was exposed to the virus last week and was in attendance during the first day of school Monday.

“We have identified those students that were considered close contact and their parents have been notified of the requirement for these impacted students to be quarantined based on Georgia Department of Public Health guidelines,” the district said. “In addition, the other parents of students in the class will be notified.”

Charlton County Schools said it has no reason to believe any other students were affected.

Dr. John D. Lairsey, Superintendent of the Charlton County School System, declined an interview but answered emailed questions from News4Jax.

Lairsey said a total of seven students have been quarantined including the student who tested positive. The district does not have a mask mandate but does recommend their use.

“We are confident the mitigation strategies we have in place are proper,” Lairsey said. “We are encouraging parents to please not send children to school if there is any doubt as it relates to exposure or close contact. In this case, the child was and continues to be asymptomatic.”

The district said it is following DPH guidelines regarding who has been exposed and needs to be notified so they can quarantine.

“We remind parents to please evaluate your children on a daily basis before they enter school or a bus, and to not send children to school if there is a known exposure. Thank you for your help in keeping our schools open,” the district said in a note to parents.

According to the latest DPH data, Pierce County had 410 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. Of those, 43 patients had been hospitalized and eight people have died. Statewide, Georgia had reported 219,025 coronavirus cases and 4,229 deaths as of Monday.

In Charlton County, there have been 437 reported cases, three deaths and 17 hospitalizations connected to the novel coronavirus.

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