9 people test positive for coronavirus at Georgia school that went viral for crowded photo

A student was initially suspended for sharing the photo.

August 8, 2020, 11:27 PM

Nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 at a Georgia high school where a photo of a packed hallway went viral earlier this week.

Six students and three staff members who were at the school last week have tested positive, according to a letter sent to parents Saturday that was acquired by ABC News. The positive cases were reported to the school after private tests.

"We have anticipated that COVID-19 would impact us as it has nearly every community, and the district has worked in partnership with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to proactively implement safety precautions and response plans," the letter reads. It does not say whether anyone will be quarantined or if the school will close fully or in part, but says custodial staff will continue daily disinfecting procedures.

The photo showed students crammed wall-to-wall at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia. Some students were wearing masks, but many were not, and social distancing was not possible.

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

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.

PHOTO: Students crowd a hallway, Aug. 4, 2020, at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga.
Students crowd a hallway, Aug. 4, 2020, at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga. The 30,000-student suburban Paulding County school district in suburban Atlanta resumed classes Monday, Aug. 3, with 70% of students returning for in-person classes five days a week. School opened days after the principal at North Paulding announced that members of the football team tested positive for COVID-19. Masks are not required in the school district.
Hannah Watters/AP

On Friday, however, her suspension was rescinded, as was the punishment of another student.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.

The past week was the first that students were back at school.

"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."

The school wrote in a letter following the release of the photos, "Under the COVID-19 protocols we have adopted, class changes that look like this may happen, especially at a high school with more than 2,000 students."

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have both pushed for schools to reopen for in-person learning whenever possible.

"Our strategy is to aggressively shield those at the greatest risk while allowing younger and healthier citizens to safely resume work and school," Trump said Saturday at a press conference announcing multiple executive actions targeting COVID-19 relief.

ABC News' Stephanie Wash, Lena Camilletti and Darren Reynolds contributed to this report.

This report was featured in the Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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