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Staff File Photo / Lafayette High School was photographed in March, 2011.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is investigating two separate events in Walker County attended by "hundreds" of people from several schools in the area, forcing the school district to suspend in-school instruction.

LaFayette High School closed Monday because of a sudden increase in positive cases over the weekend that were confirmed to come from outside of school. Because of the positive cases and close contact concerns, the school has shifted to its hybrid schedule for the rest of the week.

Down the road, Gordon Lee High School — which is a part of Chickamauga City Schools — announced it would close for the entire week starting Monday after between 70 and 80 students had to be quarantined due to 13 positive COVID-19 cases.

In a statement on the schools' website, Principal Melody Day said officials have narrowed down the source of the spread to three events: a group of high school boys hanging out on Nov. 5, cases on its basketball team and a Halloween party.

"Parents, the next few months will be extremely important. It is NOT the time to relax measures taken against COVID!" Day wrote. "The school district is doing everything we can to keep our students safe. However, just being cautious during school hours is not enough. Everyone needs to be even more cautious now because we are already seeing flu, strep throat and other illnesses."

Extracurricular and after-school activities at LaFayette High School will continue as usual.

By most metrics, the COVID-19 pandemic in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia is at its worst point ever, as numbers of new infections and hospitalizations surge locally and nationwide.

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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Gordon Lee High School was photographed on September 18, 2020.

Hamilton County, among other area counties such as Walker and Whitfield counties in Georgia, is considered in the "red zone" for the spread of the virus, according to White House reports.

The White House task force has previously noted Georgia was not testing enough to understand the spread of the virus.

Whitfield, Gordon and Murray counties ranked among the top 10 counties in Georgia for highest growth rates of confirmed cases. The entire northwest region of the state — which includes Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray, Gordon and Chattooga counties — is considered a high transmission area, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Logan Boss, risk communicator for the Northwest Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health, told the Times Free Press in a statement his office is investigating two separate events with individuals "numbering in the hundreds from several schools." Boss said some students attended both events, and the estimated number of attendees at these two events "is diminishing as our investigation continues."

"We have at least 26 confirmed cases so far and expect more," Boss said.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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