COVID-19 cases fall at public schools, overall

Students wear their masks as they get off their buses at West Port High School in this 2020 file photo. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 
COVID cases in Marion County Public Schools dropped last week, mirroring county and state-wide trends.

The school district recorded 539 new cases for the week of Aug. 28 to Sept. 3, with 465 students and 74 employees confirmed positive by the Florida Department of Health in Marion County. The figures, released Tuesday afternoon, are down from the 733 cases reported on Aug. 30.

The district also reported 2,027 students and employees were quarantined due to direct contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19. The quarantines included 1,965 students and 62 district employees. The DOH reported 3,404 total district quarantines two weeks ago, including 3,308 students and 96 employees.

Marion County Public Schools started the year on Aug. 10 with a mask-optional policy. But in response to the overall surge in cases, however, the Marion County School Board implemented a stricter mask policy. This one allowed for parents to opt out for any reason, but parents had to opt out in writing. That new policy went into effect on Aug. 17.

Even before the policy was put into place, however, the school district was making masks available.

“Since July 1, 2021, our courier service has distributed 112,820 face coverings to schools and departments,” said Kevin Christian, school spokesman.

Christian said the district has about 615,000 masks on hand.

Meanwhile, parental opt-outs continue to rise and now stand at 9,073, representing 21% of the district’s students.Along with masks, distance learning has been touted as another COVID mitigation effort, and while Marion County partners with Florida Virtual School to offer Marion Virtual School, the district hoped to revive MCPSOnline, a synchronous online learning platform that debuted last year.

Despite the district’s multiple attempts to continue the program, School Board Nancy Thrower said in a recent Facebook post that while they have attempted have conversations with the state in order to restart the program “we received no response from Tallahassee. Bottom line, we are currently under a mandate not to offer it” her post read.

“The state has not responded to our district request to fund it at the minimum cost of $2 million annually,” Christian said.

Cases fall in county

After several weeks of steep increases in the number of COVID-19 cases in Marion County, cases finally fell this week, according to state data released on Friday.

Despite the drop, new weekly cases still reached 3,052 between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2. The number of new cases was down 176 from the previous week. The county’s positivity rate and cases per 100,00 dropped as well. The positivity rate went from 25% to 23.7%, and the cases per 100,000 from 866.6 to 819.4, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Still, county hospitalization numbers remain high, with Department of Health and Human Services data showing 98% of all inpatient beds in the county were occupied. COVID-19 patients made up 36% of the inpatient population.  Additionally, 98% of all ICU beds are occupied, and COVID-19 patients make up 41% of those in the ICU.

The State of Florida recorded 129,240 new cases of COVID-19 during the week of Aug. 27th to Sept. 2nd, the Florida Department of Health reported Friday evening, its lowest number of new weekly cases since the week of July 23.  Vaccination rates dropped as well, however, as the state recorded its lowest number of vaccinations since July 30, administering 462,269.

The county is providing COVID-19 vaccinations on a walk-in and appointment basis Monday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. at its main office located at 1801 SE 32nd Ave. in Ocala.

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