Newberry High School reports a total of 58 cases of COVID-19 among staff and students since Aug. 17. Buchholz High School reports 87. Foster Elementary reports 11 cases. Oak View Middle School reports 22 cases. Total cases reported by Alachua County Public Schools: 616.
COVID-19 cases reported by Queen of Peace Catholic Academy (QPCA) in Gainesville since June 2020: Two.
According to Scott Conway, who oversees 38 Catholic schools in Florida as superintendent of schools at Diocese of Saint Augustine, QPCA is not the only school he supervises that has had minimal cases of COVID-19.
“We follow the science,” Conway said. “And our numbers are quite low regarding student populations.”
Conway said face masks are an absolute requirement in the school and in the parish during services. That is part of the strategy that has mitigated any outbreaks at QPCA, which has a student population of 434, plus 56 staff and faculty members.
QPCA launched their interactive distance learning platform to all students, pre-K to 8th grade, on March 17, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 crisis and continues to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Florida Department of Education, the Alachua County School Board, the Diocese of St. Augustine, and the Florida Department of Health.
Conway said his schools submitted a return to school plan to the state that was so large—more than 1,000 pages—that it had to be uploaded on an FTP server.
“Until further notice, all group gatherings will be done virtually,” the plan states on page 5 of the 2020-2021 Return to School Plan. “A student that participates in remote learning will not be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities on or off campus to protect their health and safety,” is another rule.
The school distributed a video featuring Elizabeth Patton, director of student affairs, explaining to students and parents why and how to use their face masks. Patton also reads a book that explains to kids about the virus and how it spreads.
Conway said that when a case is discovered, the schools then emphasize a quick move to quarantine and monitor and track not just positive cases, but do additional contact tracing as well.
The school will track down any student exposed to the person who tested positive that was within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer within a 24-hour period of the positive result coming back.
As a result, Conway says QPCA probably has a higher rate of quarantine than other schools, but those students immediately move to distanced learning and the trade-off is a low number of cases.
The face mask requirement extends beyond the schools, Conway said: “We require face masks in our parishes as well.”
At services held at Queen of Peace Church in Gainesville, the priest and all parishioners wear face masks.
“We do have some naysayers,” Conway said. “But the schools and churches make no exception to the rule. Some say it’s a political thing, but we believe the science behind the requirement. We absolutely do not let people attend church without a mask in all 17 counties.”
Other efforts that Conway says have kept QPCA down to two cases are electrostatic spraying, air purifying processes, and frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces.
“Those things have kept our numbers low,” Conway said.