Palm Beach County schools will not report COVID cases and will require masks

With their power limited by state legislation that banned mask requirements in schools in November, Palm Beach County School District leaders have scrapped nearly all COVID-19 protocols for this school year.

Face masks and vaccines are optional for students and staff, and the district has also removed most reporting mechanisms when a student or teacher tests positive: Schools will not report positive tests to the district and parents will not be notified if someone in their child’s classroom tests positive.

The neighborhood also has removed its online COVID-19 dashboard, leaving parents, staff and community members unsure of the number of cases in schools.

“It’s nice to be in the endemic stage, you know? Knock on wood,” Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Mike Burke said Aug. 1. at the district’s back-to-school press conference.

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Round trip with DeSantis, heads of state

The start of last school year, when students and teachers resumed full in-person instruction, was controversial as district leaders tried to find a way to slow the spread of COVID.

Face mask requirements have been met in hindsight from parents with a variety of complaints. They filled hours of town hall meetings to say that masks don’t work and that school leaders have no right to impose mask mandates on students.

During the first three months of school, district policies changed as the severity of community spread traversed peaks and valleys, but also in response to the changing legal landscape created by the governor and state legislators.

Palm Beach County Schools began with a mask policy that allowed parents to opt out by writing a note to their child’s school and only 10% did. Then the district moved to a full-face mask mandate in October when case numbers began to rise in classrooms.

It all came to a head in November, when Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning schools from requiring face masks for students and did not authorize vaccination requirements for students and staff. The law went into effect on November 18.

The next day, schools in Palm Beach County lifting of the mask requirement. Schools in Miami-Dade and Broward County did the same.

Governor Ron DeSantis puts on his mask after speaking at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach in 2020.

No more reporting of COVID-19 cases inside schools

But Palm Beach County’s new policies go beyond those mask and vaccination mandates and essentially stop all case reporting: Schools will no longer report positive cases to the district and will no longer notify parents when a child of their children’s class tested positive.

“You won’t know until your child tells you that people aren’t going to school,” said Boynton Beach infectious disease specialist Dr Kitonga Kiminyo, father of two teenagers. “You don’t know if people are being honest about whether they’re positive or negative.”

School district officials stopped updating the online COVID case dashboard in May after the school year ended. Now it has been completely removed.

“The dashboard was voluntarily launched by the district for the launch of the 2020-2021 school year when parents were given a choice for their students: remote or in-person instruction,” the district said in an emailed statement. “We also continued the dashboard for the next school year, even though students were back teaching on campus.”

While parents like Kiminyo used the dashboard to take decisions on school safety, others criticized the dashboard and the district’s ability to tell exactly how many positive cases were in a school.

For example, last year’s dashboard misreporting the number of positive cases among employees on the first day of school.

Eight of the 19 positive cases among employees were counting errors involving conflicting or unconfirmed tests, people who were no longer sick, or employees absent from the property when campuses opened, said at the time. Don Noel, District Risk and Reward Manager.

“I wish this never happened, but we want people to know. We all try to be transparent. It was just human error. It’s not going to happen in the future,” Noel said.

Are we in an endemic phase?

Burke and other district officials were quick to declare COVID-19 an endemic virus — or one that the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health defines as “constantly present but confined to a particular region,” making the “predictable” disease rates and spread of disease. .”

But national health experts and local doctors aren’t so sure.

“We’re just not there yet,” Kiminyo said. “I would say we’re probably down from the BA.5 surge, but I don’t think we’ve reached the point where it’s rampant. We’re still in the middle of this pandemic in Palm Beach County.”

Alternating between large epidemics and periods of relative calm and relaxation of public health security measures have made the pandemic difficult to predict and difficult to declare over.

In April, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, expressed optimism that the country was emerging from the darkest days of the pandemic.

“We are definitely, right now in this country, out of the pandemic phase,” Fauci said in an interview at the time with PBS NewsHour. “Namely, we don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We’re at a low right now.”

Fauci’s comments came as the United States reported an average of 50,000 new cases each day. At the height of the wave of omicron variants in January, the country was reporting an average of 800,000 new cases each day, according to CDC data.

But in July, the country plunged into a summer of infections fueled by BA.5 – a highly infectious sub-variant of the omicron strain.

In the two weeks between July 15 and July 29, Florida’s death toll rose by an average of 452 per week, according to Florida Department of Health figures. It was the largest increase in the number of deaths since the end of March.

(BA.5) is ‘something we absolutely have to take seriously’, Fauci told MSNBC in July. “Everyone wants to put this pandemic behind us and feel and hope it doesn’t exist. It does.”

Since, The number of hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 has stabilized and the virus concentration in wastewater tends to decrease.

But the risk of catching the virus remains “high” in all of Florida’s 67 counties, the CDC said Thursdayas the recent number of COVID cases and infection rates remain high at 16.2%.

Now the United States is reporting about 90,000 new cases every day, CDC data shows it.

Trends in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Florida reported to the CDC.  Blue bars show daily cases.  The red line is the seven-day moving average of cases.

Children can be tested and sent home if they test positive at schools in Palm Beach County

Students will be able to get tested for COVID at school with parental permission.

Yet if a child tests positive at school, they will be sent home five days a week. guidance from the Florida Department of Health and the CDC.

Palm Beach County pediatrician Shannon Fox-Levine recommends on her office’s website that students wear masks in class, although they are not required to.

His practice also advocates that all eligible children be vaccinated against COVID.

Children over 6 months old can be vaccinated and parents can make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician or find a vaccination site using Palm Beach County Online Locator Tool.

Katherine Kokal is an education reporter at the Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at [email protected]. Help support our work, subscribe today!

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