9 people test positive for coronavirus at Georgia school where viral photo shows packed hallway

DALLAS, Georgia -- Nine staff members and students tested positive for coronavirus days after a viral photo of their Georgia high school surfaced, showing a packed hallway and dozens without masks.

On Sunday, North Paulding High School in Paulding County announced it would switch temporarily to digital learning, according to a letter to parents. The school will determine on Tuesday evening whether to resume in-person learning.

Parents were told Saturday that six students and three staff members had confirmed COVID-19 cases after going to the school last week, according to another letter provided by a parent to ABC News.

That letter said the school's custodial staff will continue to disinfect the building but did not detail whether or not exposed students should quarantine.

North Paulding was thrust into the national spotlight last week when students posted images to social media showing crowds and several maskless students.

The picture prompted outrage from parents and outside observers, but also punishment for the student who shot the pictures and shared them.

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Hannah Watters, 15, a 10th grader at the school, was suspended over sharing the photos with media. The school even warned over the loudspeaker that others who did the same could be punished.

On Friday, however, her suspension was rescinded, as was the punishment of another student. She told ABC News on Friday, before the letter about the positive tests, she planned to go back on Monday.

"Going in [to school] I was nervous, but trusting that Paulding would keep us safe," Hannah told ABC News earlier this week. "But it was worse than I thought it was going to be. I didn't feel safe, especially coming home to family after going to school."

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Newly reopened schools in Georgia, along with Mississippi and Indiana, have already reported infections just days into the academic year, triggering virus protocols that include swiftly isolating infected students, tracing their contacts and quarantining people they exposed.

Schools are trying to mitigate the risk of transmission by spreading desks apart, serving meals in the classroom and keeping groups of students together throughout the day. Many schools - but not all - will require students and staff to wear masks, which health experts say is critical to cutting down on spread.

Administrators say it might be difficult to control the mixing and mingling that happens at every school. Asymptomatic carriers could silently spread the virus to many others. A student might not remember every contact, or be reluctant to tell the truth because that would mean forcing friends into quarantine.

Contact tracing might prove difficult "when you have that many students and they have multiple contacts inside of a building," said Dallas schools chief Michael Hinojosa.

Schools are reopening as new infections run at about 54,000 a day in the U.S. While that's down from a peak of well over 70,000 in the second half of July, cases are rising in nearly 20 states, and deaths are climbing in most of them.

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.
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