So far, the number of COVID-19 cases in Oak Ridge Schools has increased about 15 times faster this year than last year.
At about this time last year, there were 12 cases of COVID-19 reported in Oak Ridge Schools.
This year, in the same time period, there have been 181 cases reported.
Graphing the two together makes last year’s increase in cases seem relatively flat compared to the large increase in cases this year.
Last year, Oak Ridge Schools did not report more than 100 COVID cases until some time in November.
This year, the school system reported more than 100 cases less than three weeks into the school year, in mid-August.
There are factors that could have contributed to the faster rate of increase this year. Last year, online schooling, as opposed to in-person instruction, was an option for students and families, and there were staggered school days for the children who attended school. Also, face masks were required in Oak Ridge Schools last year as well as in many businesses, and they were worn more often by a larger percentage of people in the community.
This year, masks were optional to start the school year. After a few policy changes because of increasing cases and then an order by the governor, they are now required indoors in Oak Ridge school buildings after the school board approved a mandate Monday. (A parent or guardian can still opt out a student with a written notice, as allowed under the governor’s order.)
During the Oak Ridge Board of Education meeting on Monday, school board member Angi Agle, who proposed the mask mandate, pointed out that case numbers are rising more quickly this year than they did last year.
Another factor that could be driving the steeper increase in cases this year is the Delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It is now the primary variant in the United States, and it is more transmissible.
It’s not clear what impact, if any, vaccinations might have had on keeping the increase in cases from being even steeper this year. Vaccinations have been widely available to adults especially since this spring, and children 12 and older have also been eligible for vaccinations for several months. No information is available on the percentage of Oak Ridge students and staff who are vaccinated. Children under 12 cannot be vaccinated yet.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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