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Over 100 students forced to quarantine after first week of school in Mississippi town

Mississippi struggles to contain COVID-19
Mississippi reports highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita 04:18

Schools in Corinth, Mississippi reopened last week, welcoming students back after a long break during the coronavirus pandemic. But by the end of the week, one student had already tested positive for COVID-19 — and now, more than 100 students have been sent home to quarantine. 

Corinth School District announced Wednesday that its total number of positive cases has risen to six students and one staff member since school started on July 27. The cases span across the district's elementary, middle and high schools.

Taylor Coombs, a spokesperson for the district, told CBS News on Thursday that 116 students have been sent home to quarantine for two weeks. Those students were considered to be in "close contact" with a positive case, meaning they were within six feet for 15 minutes or longer. 

"Being one of the first school districts to reopen, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control are in close and frequent contact with us to help ensure that we are creating as safe a learning environment as possible," the district wrote on Facebook on Monday.

The district, which does not plan to reverse its reopening plans, has a total student population of 2,700. It said that students who have been told to quarantine cannot attend school or any school activities, but are expected to work digitally.

Parents were given the option of doing distance learning from home even before the school year began. According to Coombs, the virtual program the school offers "runs parallel" to its in-person instruction. 

"Our teachers have done an outstanding job adapting to this new sense of normalcy," Coombs said. "They're on the frontline and continuing to educate each child virtually and in the classroom. We have changed our routines in the buildings and are excited that we could open and adjust and have our students back for the fall."

School districts face difficult decisions over how students will learn this fall 02:45

The district has been posting daily updates for parents on Facebook, with new information about positive cases. It said that it runs daily temperature screenings of students and staff as they enter. 

Officials also requested that parents conduct daily health checks before sending their children to school each morning. The district believes its heightened safety measures and contact tracing procedures will be enough to prevent the further spread of the virus. 

"We believe that most of these earlier cases are the result of community transmission which further highlights the need for all community members to adopt and practice recommended safety measures to  prevent the spread of the Coronavirus because schools will only be as safe as the community in which they operate." Dr. Lee Childress, CSD Superintendent, said in a statement to CBS News. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, Mississippi has 63,444 confirmed cases of the virus. The state is now leading the nation in cases per capita

"Whenever possible I will allow local school leaders to determine the best plan for their local school," Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. "Those closest to the classroom will be best-equipped to make decisions."

Reeves announced a mandatory mask mandate for students and teachers in schools.

"That is one universal floor that I feel strongly about setting," he said. "It will allow for a far safer environment for education."

Reeves also signed an executive order to delay the start of the school year for grades 7-12 in "hot spot" counties. That includes  Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower, and Washington counties.

"We need to pump the brakes in hardest-hit areas," he said.

Many districts around the country have still not decided exactly how they plan to return to the classroom for the 2020-2021 school year. Some are already sending students back home after spikes in cases, while others have canceled in-person learning altogether. 

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