Cherokee County public school students, faculty and staff returned to in-person instruction and work in the county’s 40-plus school buildings on Monday following a two-week pause created by COVID-19 related staffing shortages.

The schools closed at the end of the first week of school following holiday break because of a high level of staff shortages related to COVID-19 infections or exposures that required quarantine.

“While COVID-19’s impact on our operations has lessened enough to allow for Monday’s reopening, please be advised that we will continue to temporarily close classrooms, schools or CCSD as a whole as needed throughout the remainder of the school year,” school officials said in a statement on the system website.

The closure was initially expected to end Jan. 19, but was extended because of continuing staffing issues, a high level of community spread of coronavirus, including the fact that at that time ambulances were being diverted from Northside Hospital Cherokee because of overcrowding. The situation at the hospital has improved. As of Monday, the hospital was described by the Georgia Coordinating Center as “busy” and its emergency department operations as normal, allowing for ambulance patients to be accepted.

Cherokee County schools opened for in-person learning on Aug. 3. Since then the system has had to deal with varying levels of coronavirus infection, which has led to temporary closures of classrooms and some schools.

Starting at the beginning of this semester, system officials have changed their approach to mask wearing for students to reduce spread of the virus which sparked the ongoing pandemic. This semester, students are being told they are expected to wear masks when social distancing is not possible. And, students are being asked to help encourage their peers through the creation of posters and videos that highlight the benefits of wearing masks. Previously, the verbiage was that students were strongly encouraged to wear masks.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Cherokee County has recorded 2,216 new coronavirus infections over the past two weeks, with a test positivity rate of 15.6 percent. Both figures are significantly lower than when the extension of school closures was announced.

Locally, January has been by far the deadliest month of the pandemic, which was declared in March of last year with more than 30 deaths this month so far. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Cherokee County has recorded 182 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

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