More than 200 people in Buncombe County Schools tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
According to weekly updates published to the schools’ websites Sept. 16, the district saw a cumulative 219 cases from Sept. 8-15. T.C. Roberson High School led the district in new cases with 24.
The 219 cases reported Sept. 16 is a jump from the previous week when 189 people tested positive from Sept. 1-8, according to the schools’ websites.
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The NC Department of Health reported Sept. 14 that Roberson had a COVID-19 cluster — meaning five of the cases were connected to each other. According to the state’s report, North Buncombe Elementary School also had a five-person COVID-19 cluster.
North Buncombe Elementary had a total of seven positives from Sept. 1-8, the school’s website states.
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For NCDHHS to consider an outbreak to be a cluster, the positive cases in a certain area must be linked — meaning the infected people passed the virus to others.
When this happens, all people deemed close contacts are required to quarantine for varying amounts of time depending on masking habits, symptoms and vaccination status.
The clusters at North Buncombe and Roberson are not related to each other, according to a BCS email reporting the cases.
“The areas related to these cases have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Operations at North Buncombe Elementary and T.C. Roberson High will continue as usual,” the email said.
Previous school COVID-19 coverage:
Other Buncombe County schools with jarring COVID-19 numbers included A.C. Reynolds and North Buncombe high schools with 17 and 16 cases respectively.
The sites do not indicate whether cases are in staff or students.
All but four schools had new COVID-19 cases last week. Nesbitt Discovery Academy, along with Haw Creek Elementary, Weaverville Primary, Cane Creek Elementary and Community High schools were COVID-free from Sept. 8-15.
Haw Creek and Buncombe County Middle College, which sits on Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s campus, are the only schools that have not had a COVID-19 case in the past two weeks, according to the websites.
Haw Creek has had a positive case this school year. According to a Sept. 2 email from BCS spokesperson Stacia Harris, 70 people associated with Haw Creek’s kindergarten classes were required to quarantine after one person tested positive. The quarantine ended Sept. 7.
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Buncombe County Schools did not begin publicly reporting cases until the Sept. 8 update. Before then, only close contacts of people who contracted the virus were contacted.
Asheville City Schools is seeing a dip in coronavirus activity.
On Sept. 16, an emailed update showed only seven people testing positive for the virus from Sept. 9-15.
Last week, ACS had 15 new cases. Since school started Aug. 23, the district has had 51 people test positive for COVID-19.
Though Asheville Schools’ COVID-19 case numbers are low, there is a large number of people who tested positive or were close contacts with someone who did. As of Sept. 15, the district reported 153 students or staff in quarantine.
Asheville City Schools requires a “full 14-day exclusion from in-person learning for unvaccinated individuals who are deemed as close contacts to someone that has tested positive for COVID-19,” according to its website.
Vaccinated students can return to school the next day if they have no symptoms and provide proof of vaccination.
Buncombe County Schools does not publicly report how many staff or students are quarantining.
“Each of these students is a valuable member of the cougar family, and we’re looking forward to having them safely return to our campuses once their quarantine has ended. Public health is a shared responsibility, and it’s one our district is taking seriously, but we’re asking for your support,” ACS Executive Director of Crisis Management and Operations April Dockery wrote in the COVID-19 update.
“Our surrounding community transmission rate is still high, and we need to continue to be diligent.”
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For the past three weeks, Buncombe County’s COVID-19 case count has plateaued at high levels — staying at a 9% positivity rate or higher, according to a COVID-19 update from the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services.
North Carolina was at an 11% positivity rate as of Sept. 17, state health department data shows.
A positivity rate reflects how many COVID-19 tests come back positive.
About 26% of COVID-19 cases reported in Buncombe County from Sept. 8-13 were in people ages 17 and younger. That’s an increase of 6% from two weeks ago.
“I do think we’ll probably see the same, if not slightly more of, cases in children just because of the nature of how long they’re in the classroom together, the types of interactions that they’re having,” Buncombe County Public Health Director Stacie Saunders said during a Sept. 14 media briefing.
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Saunders said she anticipates COVID-19 cases in schools to stay at the level they are currently “for a bit.”
“For most of us, we’re really excited to see any additional news that might be coming out for those who are younger than 12 to get vaccinated,” she said.
“I think that’s the next big thing that we’re all waiting for to see when that official timeline is going to happen, what’s going to be that official guidance, so that we can get more of that school-age population vaccinated and protected.”
Shelby Harris is a reporter covering breaking news, education and other topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_shelbyharris.