Ware County closes all 11 schools after ‘sharp increase’ in COVID-19 cases

WARE COUNTY, Ga. – After just over a week in session, Ware County Schools made the decision Friday to put the school year on hold following a “sharp increase” in the number of positive COVID-19 cases reported among students and staff.

The Southeast Georgia school system said in an email to parents it will temporarily cease daily operations for traditional and digital students and most staff members in all 11 schools through Aug. 27 and students won’t return to school until Sept. 7.

During the pause, instruction will not take place, but in-season extracurricular practices and competitions will continue as scheduled.

The superintendent told News4Jax he was optimistic to start the school year but now he’s nervous.

“Initially, we thought we were going to have a normal start,” said Bert Smith, Superintendent of Ware County Schools. He said school is canceled mostly because of staffing shortages with people getting sick.

“Our teachers are having to cover classes and they have to teach their face-to-face students and address the kids in quarantine. There’s not enough time in the day,” Smith said.

As of Friday, the school district there were 76 students with a positive case who have attended school during the exposure period and another 679 students who have been quarantined out of 5,900 total students. Out of 950 school employees, 67 are currently positive with the virus and another 150 have been quarantined.

Smith said 353 students are quarantined because of exposure outside of school.

“Our nursing clinics are overwhelmed with kids having to quarantine,” he said. “Right now every day is a challenge.”

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Ware was one of the first school districts in our viewing area to start the new school year on Aug. 4.

Earlier this week, the school district announced it would close schools early Friday to deep clean.

According to a report from the New York Times, cases in the county have increased recently during the delta variant surge. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has also risen in the Ware County area, but deaths have remained at about the same level. The test positivity rate in Ware County is also high, suggesting that cases are being significantly undercounted, the Times reported.

The school district said it will release additional information as it becomes available on its website and Facebook page.

In Ware County, there are 12,314 people with at least one dose, 35% of the population. About 29% of residents are fully vaccinated, far below the national percentage. About 14% of 15 to 19-year-olds in Ware are vaccinated.

The United States earlier this month reported that 70% of adults had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.