Thousands of COVID-19 cases have emerged from Florida schools during the past three weeks, according to a report the Florida Department of Health released Tuesday.
This news arrived on the heels of a decision by the Miami-Dade School District to begin reopening brick-and-mortar schools on Oct. 5, weeks ahead of the district’s previous plans.
The new report identifies K-12 schools, state colleges, and universities by name, with the number of COVID-19 cases associated with each institution.
The Miami Herald reported that Gov. Ron DeSantis “wanted the data released for one reason: good news.”
“I want to get it out because you know why? The story is a good story to tell,” he said, the newspaper reported.
The report offers data from Sept. 6 through Sept. 26, even though some K-12 schools have offered brick-and-mortar instruction since Aug. 10.
It gives no statewide bottom line — only tallies for schools and colleges broken down into categories of students, teachers, staff, and “unknown.”
If you add those subtotals, you get 3,821 K-12 and college-aged students across Florida who tested positive for COVID, plus 334 instructors and staff and 534 unknown. The report shows that 782 of the positive cases did not involve COVID symptoms.
Many Floridians continue to question the push to reopen schools during the COVID pandemic.
Rebekah Jones is a former employee who was fired by the health department in May for, she alleged, refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data to suit the state’s reopening plans. She developed the Florida COVID Action Community Dashboard in response to her firing.
Jones referred to the new report as a “HOLY HOT MESS OF HELL” in a tweet Tuesday.
She continues in a follow-up tweet: “FYI : Numbers are WAY off — hundreds of cases missing from districts that self report (including here in Leon County).”
It’s true: Some districts are reporting higher cases of COVID-19 within their schools than are accounted for in the report, while others are reporting fewer cases.
For example, according to the state’s report, Leon County has seen 40 COVID-19 positive cases in K-12 schools from Sept. 6 through Sept. 26 — but the county self reports at least 45 cases from Sept. 8 through Sept. 26.
The report exists as a file on the state Department of Health’s website, without context about how the numbers were collected and calculated. There might be a valid reason why the numbers aren’t lining up with self-reported numbers, but that reason is unclear.
The Phoenix reached out to the department for clarification and is awaiting response.
Jones’s reference to Leon County is timely, as the Tallahassee Police Department reported on Sunday having to break up a party with “more than 1,000 people” gathered outside an apartment complex near Florida State University.
The health department’s report on FSU’s campus shows 385 COVID cases between Sept. 6 and Sept. 26 — two faculty members and 383 students.
As for Miami-Dade, the data include 127 positive cases linked to post-secondary schools in county, with the University of Miami accounting for 101 of them.
Miami-Dade is one of the largest school districts in the state and was the center of the COVID crisis in Florida earlier this summer.
The district will begin a staggered reopening process on Monday, with lower grades beginning earlier in the week than older grades. Some Miami-Dade teachers have been protesting the reopening of brick-and-mortar schools during the pandemic, according to local news sources.
The district has been deploying virtual learning since Aug. 31, with some severe technical hiccups at the start of the 2020-21 academic school year. The district had voted to begin gradually opening schools starting on Oct. 14 and have all students who opted for in-person instruction back in the classroom by Oct. 21.
This was a change from the initial reopening plans, which identified Oct. 5 as a possible reopening date.
The change prompted a letter Friday from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who expressed “grave concerns” that the new schedule would limit choices of parents who want their students in school.
Flouting Corcoran would have risked millions in state funding.
But, during an emergency school board meeting Tuesday evening, the the district decided to begin reopening on Monday and will have all students who chose brick-and-mortar learning in classrooms by Oct. 9.