More than 700 coronavirus cases have been linked to K-12 schools and higher-education institutions over the course of two weeks as students and employees began returning to campuses across the state, according to a Florida Department of Health report made public Monday.
The report breaks down the number of cases tied to elementary, middle and high schools, as well as colleges, universities and trade schools. Altogether, 714 people, including students and employees, have tested positive for Covid-19 since Aug. 10, according to the report.
The cases reflect a two-week period in which thousands of students throughout the state returned to classrooms or began moving into dorm rooms at colleges and universities.
In Flagler County, a separate DOH report indicates that in the two weeks ending on Aug. 24, 24 children younger than 18 have tested positive, out of 230 children tested, a positivity rate of 10.4 percent. Overall, 115 children have tested positive in Flagler, out of 875 tested, for a cumulative positivity rate of 13.1 percent, two points below the state average of 15.1 percent. Students returned to school in Flagler on Monday, but fewer than half were in attendance in person. The rest were attending by remote options.
Yet the state report on residents “associated with primary and secondary schools” showed that from Aug. 10 to Aug. 23, Flagler County had just two positive cases. The difference appears to be in cases traced back to schools, though until Monday, students involved in schools in Flagler were in sports or other extra curricular activities.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have been resolute in their weeks-long push to reopen K-12 schools and higher-education institutions in Florida, which has been one of the hardest-hit states by the coronavirus pandemic. Campuses shut down in March as the pandemic grew in Florida, forcing students to finish the spring through distance learning.
During the past two weeks, 25 school districts reopened in accordance with a July 6 order issued by Corcoran that required schools to offer in-person instruction by the end of the month. In that time period, 205 students and 342 employees at elementary, middle and high schools tested positive for the virus, according to the report. Health officials also reported a dozen “unknown” cases of covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Fourteen of the cases have led to hospitalizations, with 85 percent of the hospitalizations tied to people who are 35 years old or older, according to the report. No children have been hospitalized after testing positive for the virus.
While pushing to reopen schools, DeSantis and Corcoran have said children are at an “extremely, extremely low” risk of getting sick from covid-19. Over the past two weeks, 64 children between the ages of 5 and 10, and 122 children between the ages of 11 and 17, have tested positive for the disease, the report says.
Post-secondary schools have reported fewer coronavirus cases than K-12 schools since Aug. 10.
Part of the reason is that universities and colleges had not resumed in-person classes during that time period. Most universities and colleges began in-person courses on Monday, and the move-in process for students began earlier this month.
The state report, however, appears to be inconsistent with the number of infections that universities have reported in the last two weeks. For example, the state report says 90 students and 61 employees at universities, colleges and trade schools have tested positive for the virus, along with four “unknown” cases.
But Florida State University and the University of Central Florida have reported 42 and 94 positive cases among students, respectively. The cumulative number of cases at those two universities surpasses the statewide total in the state report.
Department of Health spokesman Alberto Moscoso said Monday night the state report was inadvertently published and that it contained information that remained under review to ensure it’s “accurately reflected.” Moscoso, however, did not dispute any of the numbers reported earlier Monday by The News Service of Florida.
Once numbers are fully verified, Moscoso said the department plans to publish information about school-related covid-19 cases in the coming days and weeks.
“The Department (of Health) remains committed to public transparency and expeditiously providing the most up-to-date information available regarding covid-19 in Florida,” Moscoso said in a statement.
The state Department of Health today reported the fewest number of new infections since June 14–2,258 new cases, but also reported 72 deaths related to covid-19, for a total of 10,579, fifth-most in the nation. Florida has added 858 deaths in the last seven days, third-most in the nation behind California and Texas, and 26,735 new cases, also third-most in the nation. Florida’s 124 cases per 100,000 population in the last seven days is exceeded by only four countries with populations of more than 1 million.
–Ana Ceballos, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive