JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 130,000 public school students in Duval County are heading back to school on Tuesday and the rules are changing based on high coronavirus numbers.
The big message Duval County is sending parents going back to school is that if your child has any COVID-19 symptoms, keep them home and get them tested. And while mask mandates cannot legally be enforced, students are encouraged to wear them.
On Monday morning, the Duval County Public Schools dashboard with Florida Department of Health numbers showed a 4% seven-day positivity rate and 61.3 new cases per 100,000 people for a seven-day average. But those numbers were from back on Dec. 17 before the kids got out for the holiday break.
After those numbers were updated by the CDC, the positivity rate has jumped from 4% to 18.44% and the case rate per 100,000 tripled to 187.
These numbers are well over the emergency mask protocol guidelines that were implemented last year and lifted when cases dropped.
Despite the higher numbers, the district has not implemented any mask mandates for students.
“Our students, we will strongly encourage them to wear masks but we cannot mandate that they wear masks,” DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said Monday.
But all DCPS employees must wear masks when working with students and all field trips are also on hold.
Along with teachers visitors also have to mask up and sporting and performing arts events now have reduced capacity.
News4JAX spoke with Dr. Sunil Joshi, head of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, about his recommendations for parents.
“Whether you’re vaccinated or not, I would strongly encourage that our children wear masks when they go back to school because the environment with COVID-19 right now is significantly different than it was when they left for vacation,” Joshi said. “If we get back into that low community spread, which I have no doubt we will soon, hopefully in the next few weeks, then there’s this tendency to maybe back off a little bit more on the mitigation strategies for parents. But right now we’re at such high community spread, it makes perfect sense for us to do what we can to prevent the spread of this virus in schools, and that is really truly up to the parents at this point.”
Dr. Joshi said the disease is much more severe in the unvaccinated and the vast majority of children are not vaccinated. So he suggested, for now, to mask up, social distance and play it safe until numbers and hospitalization rates go down.
The district is also encouraging parents to get their kids vaccinated so they will be hosting vaccination clinics at some school sites on Saturday, January 8, and January 29, 2022, from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and plans to announce the location soon.