Although the School District of Manatee County has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 cases since its students and staff returned following the holiday break, those cases have been relatively mild.
Even so, the district has reacted by making testing more accessible and by reinstating some previous COVID-19 protocols. However, the district also has added some protocols to help students and teachers reduce the amount of time they miss in the classroom due to a positive test.
The district has reported 520 positive COVID-19 cases since employees returned Jan. 4. In the two days before students returned to school Jan. 6, the district reported 51 employees tested positive. As of Jan. 13, the district reported the most cases on Jan. 12 with 129 students and employees testing positive
“It does seem like what we’re seeing in our schools kind of is reflecting what we’ve heard about the Omicron variant, meaning that it is highly contagious but apparently the illness seems to be a bit milder,” said Mike Barber, a spokesperson for the School District of Manatee County. “With our kids just getting back, the numbers are going to be pretty high.”
Before going on winter break, the district had single-digit cases. On Dec. 21, the last day of school before winter break, the district only reported one positive case.
To help school district employees and students have easier access to testing, the district decided to open dedicated testing sites for students and employees at John H. Marble Park and its school-based health centers at Manatee Elementary School and Southeast High School.
The district also updated its quarantine protocols to follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the state.
“We’re just continuing to follow, whether it’s the CDC’s or the state of Florida’s, guidelines word for word as we try to tackle this surge and keep everybody as safe as we can,” said Kevin Chapman, the director of strategic planning and district initiatives for the school district. “Schools are open and education is continuing.”
Under the new quarantine protocols, students and employees who are exposed to someone who tested positive and are asymptomatic can choose to remain at school as long as they remain asymptomatic or they can choose to quarantine for up to five days from the date of exposure.
Students and employees who test positive can return: When they receive a negative PCR test and are asymptomatic; when five days have passed since the onset of symptoms or positive test result; or when they receive written permission from a healthcare provider to return to school.
Those who are symptomatic with COVID-like symptoms can return to school after they receive a negative rapid, PCR or home COVID-19 test and they are asymptomatic, or after five days have passed since the onset of symptoms and they are asymptomatic.
“One of the great things about our parents and school is how quickly they adapt to the changes,” Barber said.
As a result of the increase in cases, schools have canceled some public events and have brought back a few COVID-19 mitigation measures. For example, the district enforced social distancing during the School Board of Manatee County’s regular meeting Jan. 11 and all employees must have their temperature checked upon arrival at work.
As of Jan. 13, the School District of Manatee County has reported 520 positive COVID-19 cases among its more than 40,000 students in traditional schools and 6,000 employees since employees returned to work Jan. 4.