Just two days into the new school year, the Pinellas County School Board (PCS) reported that 204 students, teachers and staff have tested positive for Covid-19.
Pinellas County schools welcomed students back to class on Wednesday with an added concern – the surge in Covid-19 cases fueled by the delta variant. PCS reported 37 employees and 72 students tested positive on the first day back. Out of the 92 facilities listed, Largo High had the highest number of people test positive with three students and three school employees. Bardmoor Elementary, Dunedin High, and 74th Street Elementary had the most students test positive with four each.
On the second day of the school year, the district added 19 employee cases and 76 more students. Orange Grove Elementary and Palm Harbor University High both topped the list with five students each. Dunedin High added four more positive student cases Thursday to lead area schools with eight thus far.
In the two days since reopening, 20 employees were exempt from quarantine. Individuals that come in direct contact with the virus but are either fully vaccinated or previously infected in the last 90 days are exempt from quarantine – per Department of Health (DOH) protocol. Students and faculty are tested through a DOH testing site or personal doctor, PCS does not test at schools. PCS Public Information Officer Isabel Mascarenas told the Catalyst that in the event of temporary vacancies due to teachers in quarantine, the district is “making sure our classrooms are covered with either substitute teachers or school staff.”
Reopening schools for in-person instruction coincides with the county recently reporting an average of 800 new cases a day and a 16.2% positive average. Dr. Ulyee Choe, Director of the Florida Department of Health for Pinellas County, said those are both the highest levels recorded since the pandemic began. He added the number of hospitalizations from Covid is also at an all-time high.
Due to a state order, PCS cannot require staff or students to wear a mask, although they strongly recommend them, and make them available to anyone in need. School district personnel will not monitor or enforce the use of face coverings on school grounds. If a student displays symptoms while at school, they are then screened by the school nurse and sent home until they can provide written clearance from a healthcare provider or a negative Covid test. If a child becomes exposed to a confirmed positive case, parents are contacted directly by the school or the Department of Health.
Students under the age of 12 are currently not eligible for vaccination, and all immunization requirements for school attendance are mandated by the state legislature and not individual school districts. However, USF Health has recently announced it was selected as a site for the Moderna vaccine trial on pediatric patients between the ages of six months and 11 years old.
At a recent Pinellas Board of County Commissioners meeting, Choe warned that pediatric cases are also rising sharply. On Tuesday, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital reported 12 hospitalized Covid patients, with eight in the ICU. For June, All Children’s reported 12 pediatric patients throughout its health system. In July, that number ballooned to 181. Through the first 10 days of August, 90 pediatric patients have been admitted with Covid.
The district said it continues to practice mitigation strategies, including:
- Social distancing when possible
- Upgraded ventilation and air filtering
- Enhanced cleaning and sanitation practices
- Masks and hand sanitizer are available and encouraged
- A full-time nurse is in every school
- Separate clinics for anyone showing symptoms of Covid
- All water fountains will remain closed