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‘The New Normal’: Gulfport High Quarantines 100 Choir Students Due to Sick Teacher

Gulfport High School said no teacher nor student has yet tested positive for COVID-19, but the school sent 100 students home after a teacher reported coronavirus-like symptoms. Photo courtesy Gulfport High School Choirs/Facebook.

Gulfport High School sent about 100 students home today to quarantine “out of an abundance of caution” after a teacher developed coronavirus-like symptoms, Sandy East, the school’s public relations director, told the Mississippi Free Press.

Relatives alerted the Mississippi Free Press that the quarantined children were choir students, which other Gulfport High School family members also wrote in Facebook posts today. None of the students has tested positive, and the teacher is awaiting test results.

East would not confirm that the students were choir members, citing privacy laws. She said the school has ordered the students to quarantine for 14 days unless the teacher’s COVID-19 test comes back negative.

“If the teacher is negative, then we’re going to call all of those students back,” she said.

Though East said she could not confirm that choir students were among those quarantined, East did say that “there were a lot of extra things put in place” for Gulfport High School classes.

“I was in there the other day when they were practicing. Their seats are almost 8 feet apart, they are over 6 feet apart, and they are probably in the largest classroom on campus,” East told the Mississippi Free Press.

CDC: Choirs Risk ‘Super Spreading Events’

In studies, experts have cited choirs and gatherings where large numbers of people are singing together as “super spreading events.”

In May, the Centers for Disease Control released a report on such an event in Skagit County, Wash., where a number of people fell ill in March after 61 members of a choir met for a two-and-a-half-hour choir practice. The CDC reported 32 confirmed “and 20 probable” COVID-19 cases.

“Three patients were hospitalized, and two died,” the CDC reported. “Transmission was likely facilitated by close proximity (within 6 feet) during practice and augmented by the act of singing.”

Gulfport High School is taking COVID-19 seriously, though, East said. Each morning, staff members stand outside to take students’ temperature as they arrive, and students must fill out a “COVID questionnaire” each day during the first block. All students wear masks throughout the day except during lunch, she said, including choir students.

‘We’re Doing the Best We Can’

After the teacher called in sick this morning, East said, the school took immediate action.

“We pulled all the rosters for that teachers’ classes, and we sent those kids home just out of an abundance of caution,” she said today. “From the moment it was reported to us, literally, we started calling parents to pick them up. They’ve had no further contact with other students.”

East called it “the new normal.”

“Please stress to people: Don’t panic, get the facts, call their school,” East said. “We’re doing the best we can by these kids. We don’t want them sick. We’re trying to protect them by being proactive.”

Mississippi has reported outbreaks at several schools since the first school, Corinth High, reopened in late July. The school district has since confirmed a number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff, and at least 120 Corinth High students were sent home to quarantine over the past two weeks.

In late July, several Mississippi health experts urged Gov. Tate Reeves to delay school reopenings as novel coronavirus cases surged in the state. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs called reopening schools “nuts” and said there was “no plausible scenario where it’s just not going to bed bad,” and University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Chancellor Dr. LouAnn Woodward urged the governor to delay K-12 schools until after Labor Day

Douglas Chambers, a University of Mississippi historian who has studied past pandemics in the state and who has studied COVID-19 data since March, told the Mississippi Free Press in late July that the state was experiencing a surge in new cases among school age children and among people ages 30-39. 

The “pediatric COVID crisis,” as he called it, could prove disastrous as schools reopen, and kids (who tend to experience less severe symptoms but are not immune) spread the virus to more vulnerable parents and grandparents, he said.

Last week, Gov. Reeves delayed eight school districts in areas with the worst COVID-19 rates until Aug. 17, but dozens of others reopened classrooms this week and last week.

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