JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The number of reported coronavirus cases at Fletcher High School continues to trend in the wrong direction.
According to Duval County Public Schools, there are now more than 40 known cases involving students and staff, which includes cases involving members of the swim and dive team and other athletic teams.
In an email to parents on Wednesday, Principal Dean Ledford said the number of cases is expected to grow. Health officials said a party outside of school contributed to the outbreak.
“A full commitment to quarantine will be necessary for us to be able to return to on-campus instruction,” Ledford said. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard of continued gatherings, which if true, will only serve to exacerbate the situation, potentially worsen the impact on school and school activities, and may adversely impact our ability to safely return to school as scheduled.”
For now, the school is scheduled to reopen next week, on Oct. 29.
“It’s actually not surprising,” said Dr. Sunil Joshi, President of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation. “Because if the numbers are growing and there’s a concern that if you’re starting to reach 20% of the student body that has been infected then it does make sense to shut it down for a while because it does spread very quickly among people.”
Some Duval County students feel closing schools quickly is the right move.
“They should definitely close down the whole school because literally, it’s going to spread more and more if that happens,” said student Ashlyn Maloney.
But not everyone thinks closing entire schools is the right move. News4Jax spoke with numerous parents Wednesday who feel precautions should be taken but they think full school closures are not the way to go.
“They social distance and kids are wearing masks like they should and mandate kids wear masks,” said parent Arniel Collins. “I think the schools should stay open. I think the kids still need to learn.”
“I think they should quarantine the ones that have the virus and identify the ones that have the virus and...keep the schools open,” said parent Ernest Smokes.
Gov. Ron DeSantis agrees.
“[Closures] don’t do anything to mitigate [COVID-19], but they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social well-being of our youth. Let’s not repeat any mistakes of the past,” DeSantis said Tuesday during a press conference at Jacksonville Classical Academy in Mixon Town.
The Florida Department of Health in Duval County said Wednesday morning that it is bringing in additional resources to help with the COVID-19 investigation at Fletcher High.
“My understanding is that we will be speaking with our regional epidemiology department about these resources very soon,” said spokeswoman Samantha Epstein.
The announcement comes as seven new cases were also reported at Sandalwood High School on Wednesday.
Due to the size of the school, Sandalwood is not expected to reach the 20% exposure threshold needed to shut down the school, but the total impact at the school is still being assessed through the Department of Health, the school’s principal said.
At Douglas Anderson High School, which moved to online learning this week after an outbreak, there were no new reported cases as of Wednesday evening, according to the district. A total of six new cases, linked to an outside event, were reported on Sunday.
At Providence School of Jacksonville, the “small amount of cases” among high school and middle school students forced the school to move to virtual learning for the rest of the week for grades 6-12.
“We are learning that children over the age of 10 are in fact spreading the virus. Younger children, it’s not as significant,” said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, President of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "At this point, we just don’t really know. One of the challenges is that we’re not necessarily testing children at a rate that we’re testing adults. And so the data isn’t coming out quite as quickly.
Dr. Gwynn says it’s her position that children need to be wearing masks and she says that includes even children with chronic health conditions or special needs.