5k+ Florida students, staff quarantining after COVID-19 exposure during first week of class


TAMPA, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — More than 5,500 students and 300 staff members in one Florida school district have either tested positive for coronavirus or are quarantining after close contact with a positive case following the first week of fall classes.

Hillsborough County Public Schools’ COVID-19 case count stood at 731 at midday Monday, nearly 20 times higher than it was after the first week of fall classes in 2020. That number was up to nearly 1,300 by Tuesday morning.

The Hillsborough County School Board, which has not required masks in classrooms, scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday to discuss additional protections against COVID-19.

“We’re at that place. It’s unavoidable,” board chairperson Lynn Gray said Monday.

This comes as some school districts across Florida have mandated that masks be worn in schools, defying orders from Republican state Gov. Ron DeSantis that ban districts from imposing such rules.

Florida’s largest school district, Miami-Dade County, will likely require students to wear face masks when classrooms open next week, following the recommendation of a task force of medical experts.

The board is expected to approve the measure on Wednesday. “My mind is pretty made up on the way to move forward,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

Students in neighboring Broward County will also be wearing masks when they return for the fall semester on Wednesday.

Miami-Dade has the nation’s fourth largest school district with 334,000 students, while Broward is the sixth-largest district with 261,000 students. Both counties were hotspots before, but now the delta variant has spread such infection across Florida that the entire state is considered high risk. A fifth of the nation’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are in Florida.

On Monday, about 15,600 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida, nearly eight times more than in June, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 90% of the state’s intensive care beds are filled, according to data from HHS.

Across the country, school districts in Texas and Arizona have mandated that masks be worn in schools, defying orders from their Republican state governors that ban districts from imposing such rules.

President Joe Biden called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona last week to praise them for doing “the right thing” in defiance of executive orders from their governors. The Biden administration also promised federal money if DeSantis carries out a threat to withhold some state funds from districts imposing mask mandates.

The Associated Press, Reuters and NewsNation affiliate WFLA contributed to this report.

For a full look at Hillsborough County School’s COVID-19 dashboard click here.

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