Students at Hillsborough High School wait in line to have temperature checked before entering the building on August 31, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.
Octavio Jones/Getty Images
Cases of COVID-19 among school-aged children in Florida have increased 34% since schools started to reopen last month, The Washington Post first reported.
Further complicating matters, according to the report, is a lack of state data about COVID-19 in schools, and the state’s decision to forbid certain districts from releasing data about the coronavirus.
In a statement to Business Insider, the Florida Department of Health said it was working to develop a system to release information pertaining to COVID-19 infections in schools and in daycare facilities and would announce such in “the coming days and weeks.”
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Cases of the novel coronavirus have increased 34% among school-aged children in Florida since the school year began for many students in the state, The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday.
According to The Post report, the Florida Department of Health reported that more than 10,000 children under the age of 18 have tested positive for COVID-19 since some Florida schools began to open for in-person instruction in some districts beginning August 10, marking the 34% increase among children.
The data, however, does not specify whether the newly diagnosed child cases include of children attending in-person instruction, whether they have opted for virtual classes, or whether they have not yet begun the new school year, according to the report.
The state also allowed individual school districts to determine whether to require their students and staff to wear face masks to class, according to the report, and some districts have opted to allow students to return to schools mask-free.
The state directed some districts to shut down their COVID-19 dashboards, according to the report
On September 3, local health department officials in Orange County, Florida, were directed by the state officials to end sharing information about coronavirus cases at schools. As The Washington Post noted, the county turned to Facebook to announce information about positive cases and changes in school operations.
Officials in the Duval County school district were likewise ordered by the state to shut down a coronavirus dashboard it launched during the first week of classes, according to the report.
Other school districts, like one in Hillsborough County, which opened schools on August 31 after the state threatened to withhold funding, have not been ordered to remove their coronavirus dashboard, The Washington Post reported. In that district, 181 people, including 45 children, tested positive for COVID-19 in the first week of school.
On August 24, the Florida Department of Health had released a document that showed 194 cases of the novel coronavirus among students had been traced to schools, although the state later pulled the report and said it had been released by mistake.
On Wednesday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that more than 800 students and staff in Central Florida schools were now under quarantine orders after potential exposures to the novel coronavirus. On Tuesday, Florida Politics reported that some 500 students and staff in Pinellas County faced a possible quarantine after exposures to the virus.
“Transparency is a huge issue,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, told The Washington Post.
“Parents like myself who have kids in the classroom are wondering, are they safe?” he added. “And we want answers from the governor, but instead he’s quashing information.”
While many school districts alert parents to COVID-19 cases as their children’s school, they are not required to by the state, and they often do not disclose it publicly, according to the Wednesday report from The Post.
The Florida Health Department told Business Insider it is working to release data about schools and day care centers
In a statement to Business Insider, the Florida Department of Health said it was working to develop a system to release information pertaining to COVID-19 infections in schools and in day care facilities and would announce such in “the coming days and weeks.”
“County health departments provide confidential COVID-19 information on positive individuals and close contacts to positive cases to schools, superintendents or other designated individuals in school districts as that has been determined to be necessary by the State Surgeon General,” a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said Wednesday, adding that the “information is considered confidential” under Florida law.
“Schools, superintendents or school districts are advised that the Department has provided confidential information only to them under the statute and rule,” the spokesperson added.
But the state’s existing dashboard and data has been mired in a previous controversy. In May, Rebekah Jones, the state’s top coronavirus researcher who developed the state’s dashboard was fired from the Florida Department of Health after she said she refused to manipulate data to bolster an effort to reopen businesses.
Helen Aguirre Ferré, the communications director for DeSantis told Business Insider in May that Jones was fired for “repeated course of insubordination.” In June, Jones launched her own coronavirus dashboard and has repeatedly called on state officials to be more transparent.
More recently, in August, Jones launched a dashboard specifically for COVID-19 cases in US schools, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo she had seen “no leadership at the federal level to embark on a mission to track cases in K-12 districts across the US.”
According to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, there have been at least 650,092 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida and at least 11,915 deaths from the virus in the sate. Over the past seven days, 13.51% of all coronavirus tests administered in Florida have returned a positive result, down from a high of 19.23% of tests during the week of July 19.
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