Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) sent updated COVID safety protocols to school families as staff and students prepare for classes to resume on Tuesday.
The recent COVID-19 surge, which includes the new highly transmissible omicron variant, led to the new ACPS guidelines.
ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said in a Monday phone interview the school district has been monitoring the Florida Department of Health COVID dashboard, which showed case numbers increasing from almost 30,000 the week of Dec. 10 to almost 300,000 last week.
Johnson said the district will update its student/staff dashboard after Tuesday.
“What we’re still seeing is obviously very alarming,” Johnson said. “The week before [the holiday] break, there were fewer than 200 positive cases. Last week, there were almost 2,100 new positive cases.”
According to the ACPS release, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools, families are encouraged to follow these health and safety protocols:
- A student with any symptoms of COVID-19 must stay home. This includes unvaccinated and fully vaccinated students. Symptoms include but are not limited to fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, shortness of breath and others. A full list of symptoms is available at www.sbac.edu/covid19.
- A student who tests positive for COVID-19 must stay home, whether or not they have symptoms. This includes vaccinated and fully-vaccinated students.
The ACPS also advises when students may return to school after having symptoms or testing positive is available at www.sbac.edu/covid19 and includes information on how students can continue receiving instruction while quarantined. The district will not consider students absent when they are out for a COVID-19 quarantine.
Mingling with family and friends during the holiday break poses a high possibility of COVID exposure, Johnson said.
“A lot of people were traveling and a lot of people were gathering,” she said. “That will very likely trigger more cases, especially with the very transmissible omicron variant. And those cases are going to generate absences.”
Another major disruption aside from students being quarantined is that COVID-positive staff and faculty will also be absent.
“We are also concerned about our ability to operate our schools at peak efficiency, which is hard to do if a lot of people are out because of COVID,” Johnson said. “And that’s whether or not they have symptoms, whether or not they end up in the hospital. If they have a positive test, they have to be out. So we are reinstituting our masking requirements for staff, volunteers and vendors and any other visitors on our campuses.”
As for students, Florida law now prevents school districts from requiring masks, but ACPS strongly encourages students to wear masks “to protect themselves, their families, their fellow students, teachers and school staff,” according to the release.
“The state obviously has made it impossible for us to require masks for students or to require quarantines for people who had close contact with a positive COVID case, so those are two very important tools that are no longer available to us,” Johnson said.
The release stated that a student who has been in direct contact with someone who has COVID-19, the parent or guardian may quarantine the student for up to seven days from the date of last contact or allow the student to attend school as long as the student has no symptoms. The district still recommends self-isolation.
COVID vaccination and booster shots are also slated for students ages 5 and up and the Alachua County Health Department will be providing those at the ACPS elementary and middle schools in January. A calendar for the vaccination clinics is available by clicking here. The first round of vaccinations were administered for children 5 and up in early late November and early December after they were approved in mid-November.
“We did the first round for kids 5 and up as soon as they became eligible for the shot,” Johnson said. “We did those in December, and now the health department will be giving the second round of shots. But if a kid needs their first shot or if they need their second shot, and if we get an OK from the feds to do booster shots for kids 12 and up in time for some of those clinics, we'll do that as well.”
On Monday the Food and Drug Administration voted to approve a Pfizer booster shot for children ages 12 to 15 years old as soon as five months after their second shot.