At the April 27 Monroe County School District board meeting, Superintendent Theresa Axford announced that more than 100 Key West High School students have been quarantined in just the fourth week of the school district’s reopening to five days of in-person instruction.
“The social distancing at 3 feet, which is what we’re able to do now with more students returned to school, has become a problem when there is a positive case and contact tracing goes on,” she told the assembled board members. “There are 126 students who are out at Key West High School right now, not because they are positive for COVID but because of contact tracing.”
Contact tracing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the process of notifying contacts of exposure, addressing questions and concerns, referring for COVID testing, encouraging self-quarantine, monitoring of symptoms, and assessing the need for additional supportive services during the quarantine period (14 days from last exposure).
According to the Monroe County School District website’s COVID-19 Dashboard link, 12 students, one teacher, and one staff member have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19. Eight students are at Key West High School, three students and one teacher are at Key West’s Horace O’Bryant School, one student is at Key Largo School and one staffer is with the MCSD administration.
Axford emphasized she has been working closely with the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, including medical director Dr. Mark Whiteside and administrator and health officer Bob Eadie.
She read aloud a communication from Whiteside: “The CDC continues to endorse a quarantine for 14 days, and the local health department makes the final decisions about how long quarantine should last based on local conditions and needs. Here is our local situation: We have a high level of transmission in the community. Over 100 positive cases per 100,000 population per week. Since the beginning of the year, over 50 percent of the new cases in Florida are the UK variant, B117, which is known to be more transmissible, just as potentially deadly and much more likely to affect younger age groups than the original strain. It is still thought to be covered by the vaccines, though. We are currently seeing a rapid increase in schools in Monroe County related to sports, extracurricular activities and increased classroom spread.”
Axford said that though the Department of Health’s opinion is that Monroe County should not change current isolation or quarantine policies, vaccine clinics will be started in all high schools, by choice, for juniors and seniors.
When possible, principals will increase social distancing and moving classrooms that seem to be congested. Events like proms and luaus will take place outside. The district is going to “up the ante and being careful and making sure students are following guidelines,” according to Axford.
“I do not want to shut everything down going forward,” Axford insisted. “I do not believe that would be good for kids. But I do believe that schools can put in place procedures to protect students under our care.”
Axford may have her work cut out for her in terms of convincing parents that the right procedures are in place. At one point in the meeting, a parent phoned in to say how much her children hate wearing their masks. “I feel this should be optional. Don’t make it mandatory for my kids,” she insisted. She explained that her son and daughter are uncomfortable that they can’t see the teacher smiling, and her daughter’s skin breaks out under the mask.
“Why is it mandatory?” the mother asked. “My kids have great immune systems. My daughter is doing a regression of learning.”