Savannah superintendent: It's still unsafe to reopen schools

Soaring coronavirus infections in Georgia have made it unsafe to reopen classrooms for Savannah-area public school students in the fall, the local school superintendent said Friday.

With more than 37,000 students, the Savannah-Chatham County public school system is one of Georgia’s largest outside metro Atlanta. Superintendent Ann Levett told reporters she will ask the school board next week to continue online classes and other virtual learning options when the new school year starts in August.

“It is very difficult to ignore the fact that cases are continuing to rise and they are rising exponentially,” Levett said, adding that school officials are “morally obligated” to protect students from infection.

Local school systems across Georgia’s 159 counties are grappling with whether to allow children to return to classrooms and how to do it safely amid big increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. Meanwhile, President Donald’s Trump’s administration is pressuring state and local officials to resume in-person classes, with threats to withhold funding from those that don’t.

Some Georgia school districts, such as Gwinnett and Richmond counties, are letting parents choose between in-person and online classes. Others are biding for more time. Bibb County schools have delayed the start of classes until after the Labor Day holiday Sept. 7 while officials weigh options.

So far, Gov. Brian Kemp and state School Superintendent Richard Woods, both Republicans, have left it to local school boards to plot their own courses. Few have made final decisions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended resuming in-person classes for K-12 students as long as it can be done safely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is rolling out guidance. Draft CDC documents obtained by The Associated Press say: “Decisions about how to open and run schools safely should be made based on local needs and conditions.”

On Thursday, the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Georgia jumped by more than 2,800 cases to 106,727. The virus has been blamed for 2,930 deaths statewide, and state officials reported that 82% of critical care beds in Georgia hospitals were full, though not all of those are COVID-19 patients.

In Savannah and surrounding Chatham County, more than 2,100 infections have been confirmed — more than 10 times the number of cases the county had reported when Georgia began reopening April 24. Chatham County’s death toll since then has increased more than six-fold to 38.