Over 800 to quarantine in Georgia school district where masks are not required

Cherokee County School District drew attention last week when students without masks posed for a group photo.
/ Source: NBC News

Just one week after schools reopened in a northern Georgia school district, more than 800 of its students and staff have been told to quarantine.

Last week, the Cherokee County School District, about 44 miles north of Atlanta, told 20 people to quarantine when one 2nd-grader tested positive for the virus after the first day of school. That number grew fast, and as of Monday night, the school has ordered 826 students to quarantine due to possible exposure, according to a list the district created.

The 42,000-student district lists about 40 cases in 19 elementary, middle and high schools, but it is unclear if all of those represent positive coronavirus tests or if some are of people who were just exposed to infected students or staff.

The district routinely does contact tracing to determine who may have been exposed to people who test positive for the virus, according to NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta.

School officials could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday morning.

Cherokee County schools recommend but don't require students or staff to wear masks.

After a viral photo last week captured some students without masks standing shoulder to shoulder, Superintendent Brian V. Hightower wrote a letter to parents saying the image failed to show that many students in the district wear face coverings.

"The senior group photos taken outside before school on several of our campuses raised concerns that those students might not be aware of the importance of masks," Hightower wrote. "Upon investigation, we learned many wear masks routinely, but we must continue to remind all students of the importance of masks when you cannot social distance."

Since the return of in-person classes in Cherokee County, Ga., positive coronavirus cases have forced students and faculty to quarantine.WXIA

Hightower also said in his note to families last week that he isn’t sure how long the district will be able to keep schools open in the face of the pandemic.

“The answer will depend on all of us as a community,” he wrote.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a press conference Monday that he is happy with school reopenings across the state.

"I think quite honestly this week went real well other than a couple of" viral photos, the governor said.

Hilary Porterfield, a parent of a Cherokee school student, told NBC News last week she has been “frustrated” by how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled. She said the positive cases should serve as a “red flag” for the district.

“it's just a matter of time before it's out of control,” she said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.