ALACHUA COUNTY ‒ The world is seeing a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of the summer much of Asia and Europe had brought infection rates down dramatically, only to see a resurgence in the past two months. Worldwide there are now 50,801,471 cases as of Nov. 9. In the United States, despite short sprints of reduced cases and death rates, the rise of cases has been steadily climbing.
Florida has also seen a rise in cases, although it varies more than the national average. Currently there have been 847,821cases with 50,591 hospitalizations and 17,391 deaths. The good news is deaths are at an all-time low. However, since Oct. 31, on three days there was a spike of over 6,000 new cases per day.
Of the 847,821 statewide cases, Alachua County has seen 11,162 cases, 536 hospitalization and 82 deaths. There were seven days in the past month with more than 100 new cases, usually as a single day spike. While young people between 15 and 35 now account for much of the infection rate statewide, it is even more pronounced in the counties with large universities such as Gainesville and Tallahassee where the 15-34 age group accounts for well over half the cases.
Schools had been a major concern since reopening and the possibility of creating a super spreader environment. Some teachers were concerned for the health of the children and themselves and opposed reopening. There were also the additional costs incurred by schools to put in safety measures and social distancing standards as well as providing computers to children who did not choose to attend in person.
The results have been mixed and hard to track. Current information on the number of active cases in the state’s school systems is not listed on the state's Department of Health (DOH) or the Department of Education web pages. Most of the county school districts do keep track for families online, but that only provides tallies of the 4,517 individual public schools or the 2,689 private schools, with little coordination between them and the Florida Department of Education. As of Oct. 31, there were a reported 12,660 cases in schools statewide.
In Alachua County there have been 241 cases reported of 150 students and 91 staff in the school system. With its large population and the social interactions of the age group, the University of Florida is a different story with 4,654 cases, making up over 30 percent of all cases in the county. Within the public schools in the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC), strict protocols and procedures are practiced daily. Both the Alachua County Public Schools and the Alachua County Health Department have worked closely to limit the spread of the virus in local public schools.
To promote their efforts, both the district and the Health Department have collaborated on a daily basis with the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC), a team of medical professionals from the University of Florida with expertise in pediatrics, infectious diseases, and environmental and global health.
The protocols the district follows in addressing an active COVID-19 case in a school, including quarantine guidelines, testing timelines, and return to school protocols, were all developed in collaboration with the SMAC and are updated based on SMAC recommendations. The SMAC also developed the criteria for determining when a classroom/school should be closed due to COVID.
Currently both the SMAC and the Health Department confirm that there are primarily individual cases in elementary and middle schools, with increased numbers in the high schools related to sports teams. To date, there has been minimal to no in-classroom transmission in the schools. A majority of cases in the district have been traced to team sports and social events outside of school.
In keeping with recommendations from the medical experts, entire sports teams have been quarantined when there is a positive case. The Santa Fe High School football team went through a mandatory quarantine after a player tested positive. Under the protocols, an entire class would be quarantined if there were three or more positive cases within a 14-day period in that class. To date, only one classroom at Gainesville High School (GHS) has been quarantined based on this.
The number of cases at GHS and all other schools in Alachua County Public Schools do not currently meet the SMAC criteria for closing an entire school. Such a step would be taken if 10 percent of all classes in a middle or high school or three or more classes in an elementary school were closed due to quarantines and after consultation with the SMAC. Only five schools have had 10 or more cases since Aug. 17—four in high schools and one middle school.
The school board maintains a dashboard site listing all current and past tallies, which is updated daily for parents to review. The website also lists information for parents on rules and protocols. The dashboard is available at https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/30112
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