Marietta Schools first district in country to partner with CDC, study COVID-19 in schools

MARIETTA, Ga. — A metro Atlanta school district was the first in the country to partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the coronavirus in schools.

Channel 2′s Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose was in Marietta Friday, where CDC researchers looked at how schools operated before, during and after school at the height of the pandemic.

Jose talked to Superintendent Dr. Grant Rivera, who explained why the district decided to make masks optional for the new school year.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

“What we learned is that adult-to-adult and adult-to-student transmission was the highest,” Rivera said. “Student-to-student transmission was significantly lower, and that was even during a surge in December and January. "

Around 1,100 students attended summer school where masks were optional. Rivera said there was not a single case of student-to-student transmission.

“We acknowledge that yes, masks are important, and masks are optional,” Rivera said. “We’re looking very carefully at what’s happening in our classrooms. What’s happening on our school buses. What’s happening in our community. I think that’s the data that drives our conversation.”

TRENDING STORIES:

Rivera said the lack of student-to-student transmission and low community spread both factor into the decision about masks.

Another thing working in Marietta schools’ favor is that nearly 800 teachers and staff have been vaccinated.

Earlier this year, the district held mass vaccination clinics on campus where about 4,600 students and their families got their shots. At least 65% of its teachers got vaccinated through the campus clinics, and that doesn’t count teachers who got vaccinated on their own.

For ROTC instructor Lt. Colonel James Wilson, it’s all about the kids and keeping his family safe.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]

“Obviously if this will help me stay in the classroom where the kids can be here with me, I’m all about it,” Wilson said.

As the district prepares for students to return, desk shields have now been removed from classrooms. Still, teachers will try to maximize classroom space. Rivera is encouraging students to keep a mask in their bag and wear it if social distancing is not possible in classrooms.

“I think we have to look carefully at data from last year, data from this year, and again, if necessary, shift when we need to,” Rivera said.

Rivera said his next priority is learning loss. He said the district is pulling together additional counselors, additional social workers, parent liaisons and behavioral specialists in for extra support.

“We’re really pulling together anyone and everyone who can help a child or family,” Rivera said.