Cherokee County School District is closing all school buildings and shifting all learning to an online format until at least Jan. 19 because of a surge of COVID-19, Superintendent Brian V. Hightower said Friday.

“Our dedicated workforce of teachers, staff and substitutes have been affected by the community spread like all of their neighbors. This afternoon, we now have more than 400 of our full-time staff absent due to COVID-19 positive cases and precautionary quarantines, with more test results pending; and our substitute availability is similarly weakened,” Hightower said in a statement posted Friday afternoon on the system website. “We cannot continue to operate in-person school safely with this level of staff absences.”

The shift to online learning begins Monday and continues until Jan. 19, which is described as a tentative reopening date. Hightower’s full statement is available here.

“Parents whose children do not have access to a laptop computer or internet access need to contact the school front office as soon as possible. Students who need to pick up medication or other items that they must have during this closure should call the school’s front office to make an appointment,” Hightower said in his announcement. “School Nutrition will have to-go meals for the week prepared for pick-up in the bus lanes of schools from 10 a.m. to noon on Monday, Jan. 11. Students do not have to be with parents who pick up these meals.”

Some extracurricular activities will continue with enhanced precautions, he said.

One school was already closed on Friday because of COVID-19.

E.T. Booth Middle School was closed for in-person instruction on Friday because of absences related to COVID-19, officials said.

“More than 20 teachers and staff are absent due to positive cases or mandated precautionary quarantines started over winter break, with additional cases and quarantines pending,” officials said in a message on the Cherokee County School District website. “While substitute teachers and staff have allowed for in-person school so far this week, the level of substitute staffing needed at E.T. Booth MS is not sustainable for Friday operations.”

Four schools closed the week before the holiday break last month because of outbreaks of COVID-19, finishing the first semester with online instruction.

In its weekly COVID-19 status report, system officials reported on Friday that there were 147 cases among students and 92 among staff members.

Across Cherokee County’s total population, there have been 2,237 new cases of COVID-19 over the past two weeks, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. More than 21 percent of people tested for coronavirus infection here over the past two weeks have tested positive. A community positive test rate of more than 8 percent puts school students at elevated risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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