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9 people test positive for coronavirus at Georgia school where viral photos showed packed hallways

Nine people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the Georgia high school that gained national attention after photos surfaced online showing dozens of students crowding into hallways.

North Paulding High School Principal Gabe Carmona said in a letter to parents on Saturday that at least six students and three faculty members who were in school for "at least some time" last week have since contracted COVID-19, according to a copy obtained by The Atlanta Journal Constitution

In the note, Carmona said that the Paulding County School District was working with the state's Department of Public Health (DPH) to implement "safety precautions and response plans." He said the custodial staff would continue to clean and disinfect the school buildings daily. However, he did not mention whether any quarantine guidance would be released for students and faculty who may have come into contact with the infected individuals.

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The Paulding County School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 

Photos circulated online last week showing students packed into the hallways on their first days of in-person classes since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools in the spring. Few students were wearing face masks in the photos, which renewed fears for some about how equipped schools were for potential outbreaks. 

The photos were shared by a pair of students. Both individuals were reportedly suspended by the school for promoting the pictures online. However, Hannah Watters, 15, said on Friday that her initial 5-day suspension had been lifted following public backlash.

Watters's mother, Lynne Watters, also filed a grievance against the school after officials suspended her daughter. BuzzFeed News noted that a second student who asked for their name not be disclosed had been suspended for sharing similar photos. 

Hannah Watters said on Twitter that the photo she captured on Aug. 4 showed dozens of students crowded into a school hallway after they were released from classes. She also posted a video depicting the scene at the school.

Paulding County School District Superintendent Brian Otott defended the district's reopening efforts after the images circulated widely, claiming that some were taking the photos of out of context. He said that under the school's coronavirus protocols, situations in which students crowd into halls only happen in between classes and that it complies with state health department guidelines.

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"With that said, there is no question that the photo does not look good," Otott said in a letter to the community. 

The school district has encouraged students and staff members to wear face coverings, however they are not required.

The reopening of schools has emerged as a flashpoint in the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic, as some actively push for classes to resume and others voice fears that it could cause more outbreaks. 

The debate has led to a patchwork of different measures throughout the U.S., with some states allowing in-person classes and others deploying hybrid models that call for a mix of in-person and virtual learning. In Georgia, decisions have been left to the school districts.