JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Many area school systems have seen confirmed student COVID-19 cases increase by four times or more since students returned from an extended holiday break — and some have yet to see a plateau in their numbers.
From Kingsport City Schools announcing a two-day break at the end of this school week to Bristol, Tenn. schools taking several three-day weekends, systems have resorted to closures to try and get a grip on the spread. Teachers and other staff members haven’t been immune either as reported cases among that group have also increased dramatically.
Greeneville City Schools, for example, reported nine staff cases the first week back, which ended Jan. 7, along with 15 student cases. The following week staff cases doubled to 19 and student cases more than quadrupled, to 63.
Then last week, the staff case total tripled, reaching 56, while student cases more than doubled to 148. That worked out to a roughly tenfold increase in new student cases in just two weeks, from 15 to 148, and a sixfold rise in teacher/staff cases from nine to 56.
While that growth may sound dramatic, Greeneville’s trajectory is not out of line with surrounding districts that report numbers.
The ‘new case’ reporters
Systems are reporting differently. Some report daily, some twice a week, one three times a week and some weekly. Additionally, some systems report “active case” totals only — essentially providing a five-day total of new cases (including weekends) since cases “roll off” active status after five days.
Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., Sullivan County, Elizabethton and Greeneville each report new cases. News Channel 11 compiled comparisons of five-day totals for these systems, such as mentioned above in the case of Greeneville.
Kingsport reported 132 total student cases over a five-day period that ended Jan. 17. Over the next five school days, the system reported almost three times as many — 342 — including 222 combined on Jan. 19 and 20.
Sullivan County reported 132 student cases in the five school days from Jan. 7 through Jan. 13 and 181 cases the next five school days. Through just two days this week, the system has reported 122 student cases.
Reported staff cases in Sullivan County have been significantly lower than in Kingsport. There were 36 reported staff cases over the most recent five days in Sullivan, compared to 73 in Kingsport.
Bristol, Tenn. began seeing much higher daily case counts when students returned after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Jan. 18. After averaging 15 new student cases a day from Jan. 7 through Jan. 12, Bristol has averaged 39 new cases a day the past six days. The staff average has gone from 7 per day in the earlier period to 10 per day.
Active case increases similar
Other systems report active cases, which represents a rolling five-day average of new cases as those roll off on the sixth day. In Johnson City, that number quadrupled for students from Jan. 10 to Jan. 21, going from 84 to 345. When the system reported Monday, the student count had dropped to 260.
Teacher totals in Johnson City tripled from 23 on Jan. 10 to 71 on Jan. 21. Washington County, Tenn., meanwhile, saw its teacher numbers increase from 15 on Jan. 10 to 74 on Jan. 21. Both schools saw slight decreases early this week with Johnson City having 56 staff out Monday and Washington County 63.
Carter County’s totals were 32 students and 16 teachers on Jan. 11. Tuesday, those had increased over two weeks to 82 students and 25 teachers.
Unicoi County had just six active student cases and three active staff cases Jan. 11. Two weeks later, those totals were 38 students and 11 staff.
Three Southwest Virginia systems that report regularly have seen similar increases, with Smyth County’s active student cases more than quadrupling from Jan. 10 to Jan. 24 and Bristol, Va.’s doubling during that time.