CAIRO — At least 38 children in Grady County aged 18 or younger have contracted COVID-19 since the coronavirus pandemic began, with the majority of those cases coming within the past two months, according to information shared by the Grady County School District.

Data from the Grady County Health Department that was given to school officials last week shows that 35 school-aged children contracted the virus between the six-week period from June 1 to July 14. Just three cases of the novel coronavirus were identified among the same age group between March 1, when the Health Department began tracking the data, and May 31.

Among school-aged children who have tested positive since March, 14 have been between the ages of 14-18. Another dozen patients have been in the 5-10 year range. Five children aged 11-13 and seven children aged 4 or younger also have tested positive.

No Grady County children are known to have died of the virus.

The data underlies the difficulties the school district is facing this year in planning to return hundreds of children to campuses this fall. A recent school district survey indicates that a majority of parents would like to see their children return to in-person instruction when classes resume, but Superintendent Kermit Gilliard said he believes certain safety provisions, such as requiring students to wear masks, cannot be enforced. Other options, such as moving to distance-based online learning, would cut off the more than one quarter of Grady County students who lack reliable internet service.

School board members voted last week to push the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year back another month to September 8, the second time the beginning of the new school year has been reshuffled in just the past two weeks. Gilliard said the decision to move the beginning of school to September was not based on the virus data regarding youth, but rather the number of cases in Grady County as a whole. The Southwest Georgia Public Health District says at least 344 cases of the virus have been identified in Grady County as of Monday afternoon, with more than 16 new cases being recorded over the weekend.

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