JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A one-page information graphic outlining the Florida Department of Education’s recommendations on how school districts should combat COVID-19 was sent out to superintendents earlier this month, but it fails to include what medical experts conclude are the most effective mitigation strategies.
Doctors who spoke to News4Jax said what is on the chart amounts to a very relaxed version of the current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It seems like what would make more sense is to lean on mitigation strategies that are slightly more aggressive as opposed to ones that are slightly more conservative,” said Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation.
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In the upper-right section of the page is a list of “protocols for controlling COVID-19,” including minimizing the impact to a school through rapid and decisive action, making sure that anyone showing symptoms stays home, cleaning high-traffic areas and washing hands frequently.
Despite referencing the CDC in the infographic, what is absent from the flowchart is one key strategy recommended by the agency to control the spread of the virus — the wearing of face masks. The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. The chart also makes no reference to vaccinations, though students under 12 are not eligible for the shot.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly claimed, without the support of the majority of the medical community, that masks are an unnecessary and ineffective strategy for dealing with COVID-19, particularly in schools. DeSantis has even escalated a crusade to ban schools from imposing mask mandates.
News4Jax asked a spokesperson for the FDOE why masks were not included as a possible mitigation tool. Spokesperson Cheryl Etters said, “to recommend face masks would be a contradiction of the governor’s position.”
According to guidance from FDOE, if a student is showing symptoms, they shouldn’t return to school until they test negative and the symptoms go away, if 10 days have passed, or if a doctor signs off on the students returning to class. If a student is exposed to a positive case, they can’t return until they get a negative test at least four days after the exposure or the student has no symptoms for seven days after exposure, according to the guidance.
The chart also says that students who already tested positive and have since returned don’t have to quarantine if it’s been within 90 days of their infection.
Joshi said there are a few key differences between the FDOE and the CDC in the flow chart.
“As long as you’re asymptomatic, if you had the infection in the last 90 days, they’re treating you as if you were a vaccinated person. So that is also a significant difference from the CDC guide,” Joshi said.
Joshi said without knowing the level of antibody protection, it’s recommended that students who are exposed follow the same protocols as if they hadn’t been recently infected with COVID-19 as an added level of precaution.
Young Floridians also continue to lead all age groups in positivity rates: Ages 12-19 have a 23 percent positivity rate, the highest in the state, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Florida hospitals had 215 pediatric cases with confirmed COVID-19 as of Friday, the highest number of child hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic, according to The Times.