Georgia High School From Viral Photo Closes Due to COVID-19 Outbreak

North Paulding High School — the Georgia school where viral photos of students packed together in hallways during the coronavirus pandemic — switched to online learning for Monday and Tuesday as the building underwent deep cleaning. Paulding County Superintendent Brian Otott said parents would be told late Tuesday if the building will re-open on Wednesday. On Saturday, parents received a letter confirming six students and three staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

On Sunday, Otott sent another letter to parents, letting them know that the school will be closed for the first two days of the week to be "thoroughly cleaned and disinfected." The district will also "consult with the Department of Public Health to assess the environment and determine if there (are) any additional close contacts for confirmed cases who have not already been identified," Otott wrote. He apologized for the "inconvenience" the schedule change may cause. Still, he added, "Hopefully we can agree that the health and safety of our students and staff takes precedence over any other consideration at this time."

North Paulding High School started its school year on Aug. 3. The next day, 15-year-old Hannah Watters and another student published photos from inside the school, where students were seen in hallways shoulder-to-shoulder and very few wore face masks. Watters and the other student were both suspended for sharing the photos, which only served to draw more attention to the school nationwide. On Friday, both suspensions were rescinded.

On Saturday, the school district sent a letter to parents that six students and three staff members tested positive. The aunt of two of those students told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution they tested positive on Tuesday and Wednesday. WSB-TV reported there have been more positive cases in the district, leaving some parents furious that schools were not closed earlier. "We have had cases reported to us at seven schools, and we have notified parents in each case," the district said in a statement to the outlet. "The letter to East Paulding HS parents, and to all schools where we have had cases, states that the schools will be cleaned and disinfected, especially affected areas."

Nationwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed 5 million over the weekend. Georgia has 219,025 cases and 4,229 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the state's Department of Health. On Monday, the state reported another 2,440 new cases, 32 deaths, and 48 hospitalizations. Despite this, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has refused to issue a statewide order requiring masks at schools. Kemp said he believed school reopenings "quite honestly this week went real well," despite the situation in Paulding County, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.