School officials to stay the course after likely case of classroom spread

Students wear their masks as they get off their buses at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted February 5, 2021 | By Brendan Farrell, Ocala Gazette

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

A week after reporting its first presumed case of classroom spread of COVID-19, Marion County Public Schools continues to move forward with keeping students in the classroom.

Mark Lander, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, discussed exposures that occurred at West Port High School at the school board meeting last week. It’s not known definitively if the cases spread at school.

“This was based on close contacts to a known case becoming positive,” Lander wrote in an email. “Due to the nature of the virus, there can’t be 100% certainty on how individuals were exposed. What we would look at would be the number of close contacts who would test positive.”

In the email, Lander also wrote the suspected case of classroom spread would not affect the health department’s quarantining or contact tracing policies in schools moving forward. 

At the school board meeting, Lander stated that there were more cases at high schools, while middle and elementary schools have lower numbers with many exclusions. He attributed the higher levels of activity at high schools to outside activities and an increased difficulty in social distancing students compared to elementary and middle schools. 

Still, the county is moving forward with its plan to keep students in the classroom. 

“We’re just encouraging people, if they don’t feel well, stay home, if you’re waiting on test results, stay home, if you’re showing symptoms of COVID, stay home,” said Kevin Christian, public schools spokesman.

He said the guidelines the schools use have proven effective.

“And it’s worked so far. I mean, you look at the numbers, I think many people would have expected schools to shut down or even our district to shut down, and we’ve not had to do that because people are taking the precautions that are being suggested.”

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