Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ended local emergency orders on Monday, but Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) is reminding parents and students the move does not end COVID-19 mitigation efforts at schools.
"According to the Florida Department of Education, Governor Ron DeSantis' emergency order lifting COVID-19 requirements does NOT apply to school districts," says a pop-up screen on the ACPS website. "That being the case, the district's current policy requiring masks in schools remains in force."
The notice adds that the district will notify parents if the policy changes.
Last month ACPS announced that it would make masks optional for the 2021-22 school year. In a statement provided to Mainstreet Daily News on Tuesday, ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said staying the course for the rest of the current school year is the logical thing to do.
"With guidance from medical experts and the support of students, staff and families in following our protocols, we've been able to get this far in the school year with minimal-to-no classroom spread of COVID," Johnson said. "With the end of the school year fast approaching, it just makes sense to keep following the science and maintain the practices that have helped keep people safe."
Meanwhile, Alachua County posted a message to residents on its Facebook page thanking those in the community who followed the local mask mandate and other mitigation efforts against the virus that arrived in March 2020.
"Today, the Governor suspended all local emergency orders. As we have done since the beginning, we will follow Executive Order 21-102," the statement reads. "Alachua County sends its sincere thanks to residents who have done so much to keep our hospitalizations low and our residents safe. Since the beginning, Alachua County has not collected a single fine nor have we issued a single citation for the masking order. This includes the time preceding the Governor's suspension of the collection of fines."
According to the county COVID-19 recovery dashboard total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic reached 24,744 as of May 3, yielding an overall positivity rate of 4.6 percent.
The daily positivity rate on May 3 was lower than average at 2.77 percent, and the average hospital occupancy rate in the area is just under 80 percent.
Alachua County lost 275 people to COVID-19 and has administered 117,908 vaccination doses so far.
The state of Florida reports 2.2 million cases on the Florida COVID-19 dashboard as of May 3, with daily positive cases reported in a range above 3,000 and more than 9,000 between April 12 and May 2.
The state's positivity rate is at 17.6 percent as of May 2. Total COVID-19-related deaths for the state are reported as 35,307.
The median age for new cases in Alachua County has dropped to 27 years old, according to the health department.
ACPS COVID-19 recovery dashboard reports that 74 percent of the student population is now attending school in person. On May 3, the dashboard reports a "substantial" level of community transmission with 122 contacts in quarantine, 12 student cases and three staff cases.
"This was always about encouraging citizens to keep each other safe by following the science," the Alachua County statement said. "Of course, those who wish to follow the latest CDC guidelines to continue masking in certain situations can do so. Businesses still have the right to require employees and customers to wear masks and the right to enforce their own masking requirements."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Jackie Johnson's quote.