JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New COVID-19 cases have been leveling off in the Duval County school district over the last two weeks since a mask mandate went into effect.
The mandate, while heavily criticized by some parents, was a contributing factor in the decrease in cases within Duval County Public Schools, according to local doctors, including Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of UF Health’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology, and Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation.
#MaskMandates work:No masks @DCPS 1st wk 64,2nd 433,3rd 624,4th 529 infected. Masks:1st wk 310,2nd 168 infected. #ProtectOurChildren @FloridaAAP @AmerAcadPeds @WolfsonChildren @BaptistHealthJx @UFHealthJax @UFHealth @MelissainJax @BethReeseCravey @DrMobeen @wjxt4 @ActionNewsJax— Mobeen Rathore, MD, CPE, FAAP, FPIDS, FIDSA, FSHEA (@mhrathore) September 16, 2021
The latest update to the school district’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard was the smallest Monday increase in cases since the beginning of the school year. On Sept. 7, the post-weekend update had 195 new cases. On Monday, there were 51.
“It’s been a dramatic decrease over time, and I do think that masks make a difference, but I also think we need to keep in mind that there are other things that are making a difference, including increasing vaccination rates,” Joshi said.
A new panel on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the rolling seven-day average positivity rate. As of Thursday, it was at 9.9%. Based on an emergency rule that the district adopted, when it dips below 8%, the mask mandate will be automatically suspended. That 8% number is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers to be “moderate” spread of the coronavirus.
Other districts in Northeast Florida have also seen declines in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of September, however, inconsistencies in reporting criteria, size, population and other variables make comparing different school districts prohibitively complex.
But what’s continuing to rise everywhere is vaccinations.
“Now that cases are going down, and people are, quote-unquote, relaxing a little bit, I think it’s very, very important for us to remember that vaccines are the way for us to stay out of trouble with this pandemic,” Joshi said.
The fear for medical workers is the sprouting of another COVID-19 variant — which is a continued risk with each transmission of the virus and could spark another surge, putting a dangerous strain on hospital resources.
“Let’s continue to do what’s been working. Let’s get folks vaccinated, and let’s have our kids continue to wear masks in school because I do feel like that’s keeping our kids safe, and it’s also protecting their families,” Joshi said.
To help out the effort to put less of a strain on hospitals, Joshi also reminds everyone to get a flu shot, as well. For information about the flu vaccine, how to get it for free and what to expect, visit news4jax.com/FluVaxJax.