KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — As Knox County experiences a rapid rise in active COVID-19 cases, Knox County Schools are closed for the remainder of the week due to ongoing staffing challenges.

Knox County Schools announced Wednesday that all schools will be closed on Thursday, Jan. 20, and Friday, Jan. 21. At the time of the decision to cancel classes, the school system reported 684 staff absences.

Under new Tennessee law, classrooms and schools facing a surge in cases can request a waiver for a temporary switch to virtual learning if needed. The waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

Knox County Superintendent Bob Thomas said Wednesday that the district is considering submitting a waiver for virtual learning, adding that it may only apply to certain schools depending on their needs.

“We know some schools are having more of a problem than other schools so over the next couple of days we will look at that possibility as we identify schools that may fit that category of being able to go virtual,” Thomas said. “We’ll submit a waiver to the commissioner and it would be up to her to approve that. We are looking at and exploring that option. We just cannot go virtual as district as we did last year.”

The cancelations mark the third and fourth consecutive days that school have been out due to ongoing staffing shortages. With the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17, students have not been in class since Friday, Jan. 14.

New data released Wednesday by the Knox County Health Department showed the local active case count nearly doubled from 6,766 on Jan. 8 to more than 12,000 on Jan. 15. More than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases among children ages 5 to 17 were reported during the same seven-day period.

Check the WATE 6 On Your Side closings page for the latest news on school and business closings due to inclement weather or illness.