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Jarvis Walker, a janitorial worker at Corinth Middle School, pitches in to help the cafeteria staff hand out lunches in the classroom on Monday. The Corinth School District was the first school in the state to go back to school on Monday.

Tupelo • As schools across Mississippi begin reopening this week, the state now has the highest test positivity rate in the nation with a weekly average of 25.8%, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

That means more than one-fourth of all people who are tested in the state are positive for COVID-19.

Mississippi also has the fifth highest recorded case count per 100,000 residents in the country behind Louisiana, Arizona, Florida and New York, according to CNN’s COVID-19 tracking data. The state currently has 2,131 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

Reeves said during a press conference on Tuesday that 51 of the state’s 144 districts plan to reopen this week while 49 will reopen next week.

The governor opted to only delay reopening for students in grades 7-12 in eight “hot spot” counties, none of which are in Northeast Mississippi.

Reeves advised, however, that school districts should strongly consider amending their own plans, particularly for grades 7-12, to reopen eight to 12 days from Tuesday to “give us the time hopefully for the number of cases to decline.”

Oxford School District’s Board of Trustees voted on Wednesday afternoon by a margin of 3-2 to delay students’ return to schools until Aug. 24. They were previously set to return on Monday, Aug. 10.

“We have wrestled with this decision for several days as numerous parents have requested a transition to virtual learning for their students at a rapidly increasing pace,” Superintendent Brian Harvey said in a statement. “More than 300 requests wishing to change from face-to-face instruction to online learning from home since the deadline on July 10th.”

Harvey recalled his commitment to protecting the health and safety of Oxford’s students, staff and families which includes adequately preparing teachers to return and training them on new safety protocols and digital teaching techniques as “both are essential to providing a safe, healthy learning environment for our students.”

“The reality is some teachers are reluctantly returning to classrooms, and many of our parents are reluctantly sending their children as positivity rates for COVID-19 continue to climb in our state and in our community,” Harvey said.

Oxford’s decision came as Mississippi reported 1,245 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday with 51 new deaths, the highest number of both cases and deaths seen so far this week.

The number of patients in an ICU reached an all-time high of 329 on Tuesday, and the number of patients hospitalized with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases remain high, at 970 and 209 respectively.

There were 192 patients on ventilators as of Tuesday, which is even with the previous peak.

Corinth School District, the first in the state to reopen on July 27, has already confirmed positive COVID-19 cases at each of its three campuses in the first week and a half of classes.

As of Wednesday, one employee has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Corinth Elementary School. One student has tested positive at the middle school, resulting in 27 other students who were in close contact being quarantined.

Five high school students have tested positive, resulting in 89 students and two teachers being quarantined as a result of having been in close contact with the infected individuals. One other high school student, who has not attended in-person classes, also tested positive.

Reeves said during a press conference on Wednesday that while it is unfortunate that any child has tested positive for the virus, Corinth is responding in the right way by identifying cases and quarantining close contacts.

“While we do have a large number of kids that are in quarantine in Corinth, we also have a whole bunch of kids that are in classrooms that are learning,” Reeves said. “That seems to be completely lost on some. There are a whole bunch of kids in Corinth that are in classrooms today that are learning.”

blake.alsup@journalinc.com

Twitter: @AlsupTheWriter

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