A backlit woman writes on a whiteboard

A woman writes on a whiteboard.

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Teachers may be more important drivers of COVID-19 transmission in schools than students, according to a study published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between December of last year and Jan. 22, about 80% of elementary school students and 700 staff members attended in-person classes in the Marietta area. 

During this period, COVID-19 incidence increased almost 300% in the surrounding Cobb County, from 152 to 577 cases.

Nine clusters of COVID-19 cases involved 13 educators and 32 students at six elementary schools.

Two clusters involved probable educator-to-educator transmission that was followed by educator-to-student transmission in classrooms and resulted in approximately one-half (15 of 31) of school-associated cases.

In only one cluster was a student clearly the first documented case. In four cases, the teacher's COVID-19 was documented first.

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Marietta City Schools Superintendent Grant Rivera told ABC News that the district had been using Fridays for teacher collaboration. Now, the district is encouraging teachers to stay separate.

“We told teachers that all teacher collaboration should occur virtually,” Rivera said.

All nine transmission clusters involved less-than-ideal physical distancing, where plastic dividers separated students' desks approximately 3 feet apart because of the setup of the classroom.

According to the updated guidance on opening schools from the CDC, the 6-foot standard should be considered nonnegotiable for K-12 schools where transmission is substantial or high.

The CDC recommends all schools use multifacted strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, including cutting down on teacher-to-teacher meetings, making sure masks are worn correctly, and increasing physical distancing where possible.

Read the CDC study here.