More than 50 quarantined after COVID-19 outbreak at the Alabama State Department of Education

Updated Nov 13, 2020; Posted Nov 12, 2020

Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey
Alabama Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey speaks during a press conference on March 10, 2020, at the Alabama Department of Public Health.

By Amy Yurkanin |

More than 50 employees at the Alabama State Department of Education have been placed on quarantine in the last two weeks due to coronavirus, said State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey at a Thursday board meeting.

Mackey said a number of employees in one section recently tested positive. In response, department leaders sent all staff members in that section to quarantine and work from home. Earlier this week, another employee in a different section also tested positive, and leaders sent almost all the section’s employees home.

“That put our quarantine numbers above 50,” Mackey said.

Of those who tested positive, many didn’t have any symptoms, Mackey said. Most of the employees quarantined in the first group will return to work in the next couple of days, he said. That will leave fewer than ten employees on quarantine.

The number of positive cases in the department has spiked in the last two weeks, Mackey said.

“To put it in perspective, between March 13 and 11 days ago, we had 12 total cases of the virus among employees here,” Mackey said. “So we did pretty good for seven months. And in those 11 days, we’ve had nine or ten more cases.”

Mackey said the department has taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Employees have been told not to take walks for exercise around the building, to prevent spread from one area to another.

Mackey said it is more difficult to collaborate when entire sections are working from home. But the increase in cases has prompted discussions about reducing the number of staff in the office to half, which the department did during the summer. Mackey noted that many state education departments across the country have not returned to offices since March, and said the Alabama department had few problems until November.

“It can happen so fast, when you go from one to two to four to eight in a day,” Mackey said. “And that’s what happened to us a couple weeks ago.”