Mackey & Barnette

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette, right, and Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey speak to a health science class at the Cullman Area Technology Academy in Feb. 2019.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama is announcing its plan to operate schools this fall amid warnings the coronavirus pandemic is worsening across much of the state.

State School Superintendent Eric Mackey scheduled a news conference for Friday morning to lay out a blueprint for state school districts to reopen in a matter of weeks.

Many districts shut down traditional schools and switched to online or virtual learning in March, but such arrangements pose difficulties in rural areas where broadband internet connections are scarce.

Alabama has reported almost 33,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and at least 880 deaths from the virus. More than a quarter of the cases have been reported in the last two weeks, and health officials are worried by increasing hospital caseloads and a rise in the rate of positive test results.

Infection rates are highest in some rural counties where students have to travel long distances to reach school and internet service is spotty at best.

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