- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2020

New Orleans is seeing improvement in its COVID-19 infection rate but it’s too early to say how soon the city’s public school students will be able to return to classrooms, the city’s health director said Wednesday.

Dr. Jennifer Avegno told reporters that the city’s infection rate has hit an important milestone of 50 or fewer new cases a day. But the positive trend will have to be sustained before it would be advisable for children to return to classes.

New Orleans schools began reopening last week - with online-only orientation and instruction, although some one-on-one orientation meetings in school buildings have been conducted. School officials have said they hope to begin more in-school classes at some point after Labor Day.

“We can’t make the mistake of doing too much,” Avegno said. “Because that will jeopardize our children.” However, she also stressed that getting children back in the classroom is important and should be a priority once restrictions are lifted.

She added that other restrictions in the city - where bars have been shut down, restaurants are open at limited capacity and numerous other restrictions on gatherings are in place - would have to stay in place for several weeks after children are back in class.

“If we believe that opening schools may cause more virus circulation, we have to prepare for that,” Avengo said. “And we have to really sustain our low levels. We have to get to those low levels and stay at those low levels. So it would be at least several weeks once kids are back.”

Louisiana was an early COVID-19 hotspot and New Orleans was its epicenter in the spring. After successfully bringing numbers down, the state saw a major resurgence that led to the re-imposition of restrictions. New Orleans has seen cases rise but the major problem areas have been in other parts of the state, including the Baton Rouge and Lake Charles areas.

Louisiana reached 134,304 confirmed cases as of midday Wednesday, an increase of more than 1,100 from the day before. The state said 103,512 are presumed recovered. The number of deaths related to the disease rose by 43 to 4,238. The hospitalization figure, which was released later Wednesday, continued downward, dropping by 15 to 1,320. Hospitalizations had peaked at around 2,000 in April, hit a low of 542 in mid June then climbed to 1,600 during the resurgence that peaked last month.

School officials held an afternoon news conference to brief the public on the continued opening of online classes for the city’s roughly 45,000 public school students. One point stressed by Superintendent Henderson Lewis: “Teachers will be taking attendance each morning.”


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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