School Board members express concerns over rise in COVID numbers

School Board members, from left: Nancy Thrower, Kelly King, Allison Campbell, Don Browning and Eric Cummings, pose together during a meeting at the Marion County Public School Board in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
COVID-19 wasn’t on the Marion County School Board’s prepared agenda on Tuesday, Jan. 11, but as case numbers increased over the recent holidays, several board members did bring the issue up during their respective comments.

“We need everyone to be healthy and safe in a couple of weeks,” said Board Member Kelly King. “I hope [the case numbers] drop as quick as they came, but until then, we have to take care of one another.”

COVID cases in Marion County more than doubled from two weeks ago, as the county registered 3,130 new cases during the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 6, according to figures released by the Florida Department of Health (FLDOH) on Jan. 7.

Board Member Nancy Thrower echoed King’s concerns.

“It is just distressing that we’re still having to deal with the effects on the school system of the virus,” she said. “And hopefully it will follow the same pattern as it has been in other countries. Then, in another week or so, we will begin to see a sharp decline.

“I’m sure that would please everybody, including me,” she added.

Board Chair Eric Cummings mentioned rising case numbers as a major concern.

“We’re nudging the highest [positivity rate] we have ever been for Marion County,” said Cummings. “I believe that we probably have surpassed that by today.”

Cummings acknowledged that surges would happen, and then there would be great decreases.

“The main thing is to try to get back to those decreases, those reductions, as fast as we can. That’s going to require us doing the right thing,” he said.

Earlier in the school year, the Marion County School Board had a resolution in place that was dependent on statistics from the CDC, said Kevin Christian, director of Public Relations for Marion County Public Schools.

“Once those statistics dropped below specific levels for two weeks in a row (per solution language), the resolution dissolved,” he said.

The latest report from MCPS covers the week of Jan. 1-7, and shows 512 confirmed cases, with 356 students and 156 employees testing positive for the virus.  Further, 638 students and 88 employees were quarantined as a result of direct exposure.

According to the “COVID-19 Student Decision Tree” chart, provided by Christian, a student who has COVID-like symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19 can only return to school after a negative test and symptoms have been resolved, or provide documentation from a medical provider and be symptom-free for at least 24 hours.

If simply exposed to a COVID-19 case (direct contact) yet exhibiting no symptoms, it remains the parents’ choice whether or not their child remains at school or is quarantined for up to seven days.

With the latest updated figures, COVID numbers have once again moved above the threshold set for MCPS to consider having students wear face coverings. According to FLDOH guidance, the county must be below 99.9 cases per 100,000 (currently at 840.3) and the new case positivity must remain below 10% (currently at 24.6%) for two weeks in order for coverings not to be required.

Despite the rising numbers, MCPS declined to reinstate any sort of facial covering.

“As of today, School Board members have not expressed a desire to introduce any new masking resolutions,” said Christian.

He also mentioned that Florida State Statute 1002.20 now prohibits requiring face masks. In regard to the recent spike in COVID cases since the end of the holiday season, he remarked that “student average daily attendance is down, but not to where we see family ‘trends.’”

For more information on current testing/quarantine rules, visit the MCPS website.

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