In one of the worst ways imaginable to welcome in the new school year, thousands of students in a single Florida school district are now isolating or quarantining due to possible COVID-19 exposure, just days after schools opened in the state.
Tim Fitzsimons of NBC News reported that “over 5,000 students and hundreds of school employees in just one Florida district have either tested positive for COVID-19 or potentially been exposed to the coronavirus.”
On Monday, Aug. 16, Hillsborough County Public School (HCPS) officials announced that 5,599 students and 316 staffers were either exposed or potentially exposed, triggering social-distancing protocols. The Hillsborough County Public School district is the seventh-largest in the country and includes the city of Tampa, serving over 200,000 students in more than 200 elementary, middle and high schools.
According to a statement from the school system, “isolation refers to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, while quarantine refers to those who have had close contact with a positive case.”
The school district has also decided to call for an emergency board meeting where administrators plan to discuss how to successfully move forward following this public health fiasco, which includes mandatory face coverings for all students and staff.
“We must continue safety practices community-wide as we work to combat this virus,” said HCPS Superintendent Addison Davis.
Just a few weeks back, Florida broke records for its new daily confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the illness now occurring at rates higher than at any other time during 16-plus months of the pandemic — even before vaccines were available.
In nearby Broward County, two teachers and a teacher’s assistant contracted COVID-19 and died just as children were beginning to return to school. At the same time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has staunchly maintained his ban on masks for children going to school.
Following the recent risk of exposure within his school system and the many children waiting to find out whether they have caught the illness, Superintendent Davis has decided he will now mandate masks for children, despite the Governor’s ban. Curiously, he will also allow parents visiting the school to opt out of the protective measure.
“We’re gonna make sure we still follow every statutory requirement, all the legal ramifications, but at the same time, show that sensitivity with COVID-19 in our community and put mitigation strategies in order to be successful,” Davis told reporters.