Doctors see trend of increasing COVID-19 cases in schools as parents face Duval HomeRoom deadline

Health department reports consistent rise in new COVID-19 cases throughout Duval County schools week after week

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – No one knew exactly what to expect when children went back to school last month.

But Duval County Medical Society Foundation President Dr. Sunil Joshi said he had an idea of what could happen.

“The trend that we were worried about seeing happening — the longer the kids were in school, the more likely we were going to start to see an increase in COVID-positive, not just students, but also administrators and staff — is happening, unfortunately," Joshi said. “So there has definitely been this increase.”

For the first time, a document from the Florida Department of Health in Duval County that covers public and private schools from preschools to colleges is providing a clearer picture of which demographics have been affected most by COVID-19 in schools and which age groups have been impacted most.

In the document obtained by News4Jax, the health department reports a consistent increase in new cases throughout Duval County schools week after week.

“The question is if you take a picture of this point in time, you may take a look at it and say, ‘Oh, things look OK, and the big picture is not so bad.’ But if you look at it over time, the trend is such that it’s increasing,” Joshi said. “We don’t want is for it to keep increasing through October and November because then it will become much more of a significant number.”

After getting Joshi’s take on the information in the document, News4Jax took the same information to UF Health Jacksonville Chief of Community Pediatrics Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen. He said the first thing that stuck out to him was the increasing trend that Joshi pointed out.

“We don’t see any evidence that it is leveling off," Goldhagen said.

While it’s possible to estimate the approximate ages of students with COVID-19 based on Duval County Public Schools' dashboard, which lists how many cases are at each school, the document from the health department was the first time a specific breakdown by age groups has been seen.

“The distribution of cases among students between 5 and 19 is about equal,” Goldhagen said. “So that’s telling us that this myth that younger children are not exposed to and/or demonstrating COVID positivity is just wrong.”

A chart in a document from the Florida Department of Health shows the age distribution of COVID-19 cases in Duval County schools. (Florida Department of Health in Duval County)

That means taking into account any pre-existing conditions anyone in a household may have as Duval County parents have until Friday to decide how their child will attend school when the second quarter begins in about a month — whether it be on campus of through Duval HomeRoom.

“I think that parents should still be considering the same reasons why they may have been chosen virtual to begin with — which is their child’s health and the caregiver of the child’s health, as well,” Joshi said.

Joshi said that for parents who still hesitant about sending their children back full time, four weeks is not enough time to paint a full picture and that he would recommend to his patients to give it some more time.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Duval County Public Schools reports there had been 4,309 Duval HomeRoom cancellation requests and 886 Duval HomeRoom applications.

It’s also worth noting that unrelated to Friday’s selection deadline, as of Monday, all students who are attending brick-and-mortar schools will be on campus five days a week, as the hybrid model ends.

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