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Fulton County Schools rely on ‘Mitigation Matrix’ to manage COVID-19 disruptions

Includes data in school community as it implements protocols

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ATLANTA, Ga. — Managing COVID-19 outbreaks in the Fulton County School System is now focused on mitigation strategies to keep schools open rather than plans to close classrooms when numbers rise.

This month, the district released a “mitigation matrix” that aligns with the number of positive cases in the community, not just in the schools. The level of intervention and adjustments will increase as the case numbers rise.

“The mitigation matrix really is a combination of practices we've put into place since March of 2020,” said Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones. “We can clearly communicate to our communities, school staff and students, what is to be expected as they enter our facilities.”

Recent numbers from the Fulton County Board of Health indicate a gradual decline of COVID-positive cases across the county. However as of Sept. 17, all 13 municipalities within the Fulton County School System reported numbers above 200 per 100,000 residents, including the five cities in the North Fulton region. That is considered high level of community spread.

The numbers represented rates for the preceding 14-day period.

Previously, Fulton Schools followed a “closing matrix” that automatically sent students home for virtual instruction when numbers in the school hit specific levels. Under the new system, the numbers in the community are also factored in, with specific strategies in place as numbers rise.

For example, if a community is reporting 100 cases per 100,000 residents, masks are required, visitors are limited, and the school prepares for remote learning. Mitigation measures rise along with the COVID positive numbers. At 1,250 cases per 100,000, the school will revert to 100 percent virtual classes.

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Jones said the progressive approach to COVID management limits disruptions while managing spread more effectively.

“So where it was [previously] more of a direct path to closure…these mitigation strategies are more progressive,” Jones said. “And the objective is always to make sure that we are able to provide students the most direct instruction possible.”

To date, several schools in South Fulton have reverted to all temporary remote instruction because of high case numbers. In North Fulton schools, virtual learning was periodically in place in specific grade levels, but not the entire school.

As the rate of infections in the community decline, the mitigation strategies in place will also decline.

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Jones noted the procedures are not new approaches, but ones that have been used in the district throughout the pandemic. He sees the reliance on the matrix continuing even after the COVID crisis abates.

“Although we are responding to a crisis we're currently in, we're seeing how [these measures] can become part of our long-term strategy,” Jones said. “I think we all can agree that COVID will probably be with us for a long time.”

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Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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