Schools dashboard

The Alabama Department of Public Health has launched a new COVID-19 dashboard that includes the number of positive cases among students and staff members in local school systems.

MOBILE, Ala.  — Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases in Alabama, state Superintendent Eric Mackey said he wants schools to return in-person class after Thanksgiving holidays.

"We will do everything we can to avoid widespread closures of physical schools," Mackey told WALA-TV.

The state's COVID-19 school dashboard shows nearly 1,600 cases last week in public schools compared to fewer than 1,100 the week of Nov. 6, a 50% increase.

While a statewide switch to virtual learning is off the table, the state superintendent says individual schools could switch to all virtual learning as a last resort. Two school systems where cases rapidly increased, Alexander City and Marshall County, switched all their schools to virtual learning temporarily. Some other individual schools also have stopped in-person instruction temporarily.

Mackey said schools that close often have to shut down because too many teachers are exposed and told to quarantine, a problem that's been seen nationwide.

"You get to the point you just can't keep the school open because there's not enough adults to run the school when that happens then we want to work with the local superintendents to close that school for as brief a period of time as possible," he said.

The virus has hit Mackey's own department as well, with him telling state school board members earlier this month that more than 50 state Department of Education employees had been sent home to quarantine after employees in two areas tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state's larges district, Mobile County, says it plans for student to return to campus after Thanksgiving.

"Our goal is to stay with in-person learning as long as we can," said Rena Philips, spokesperson for the district. She said that quarantines can be a challenge, "but so far we've been able to address those challenges."

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