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SUWANEE, Ga. (AP) — More than 250 employees in Georgia's largest public school district have reported testing positive for the coronavirus or possibly being exposed to it about a week before the school year is set to begin, according to district officials.

Gwinnett County Public Schools teachers — many of whom were not allowed to work from home — began in-person planning Wednesday at county facilities, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

By Thursday, about 260 employees had called in to report a positive COVID-19 test or possible exposure to a case and were excluded from work, officials confirmed to news outlets.

Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks announced last month that the 180,000-student district in suburban Atlanta would not offer in-person classes when instruction begins Aug. 12, saying all classes would instead be taught online.

Wilbanks said at the time that teachers would generally deliver lessons online from schools, but Gwinnett officials also said they would allow some staff members to work from home "to address individual concerns."

The number of exposed employees remains in flux as new cases are reported and others are cleared from quarantine, news outlets quoted district spokeswoman Sloan Roach as saying.

"Given the number of COVID cases in Gwinnett, we would expect to see positives among our employees based on the community spread in our county," Roach said.

The county, the state's second-most populous, had more than 17,900 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday, with at least 240 deaths.

More than 2,200 additional confirmed cases statewide were reported by health officials in their daily update, along with two additional deaths. About 86% of Georgia's critical care beds are in use, officials said.

In southwest Georgia, hard-hit by the virus when it first began to spread through the U.S., the number of hospitalized patients is climbing once again.

For the first time in about three months, COVID-19 patients were being treated in all of Phoebe Putney Health System's hospitals, CEO Scott Steiner said in a statement Monday. In June, the health system admitted 47 such patients to its hospitals in Albany. In July, that number rose dramatically to 176, he said.

"At Phoebe, we are on day 147 of our battle with COVID-19," Steiner said. "It has taken amazing strength, stamina and teamwork to get this far, and unfortunately, the fight is far from over."

 

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