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Covid-19 maintains high profile in both private and public schools in county

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of November 26, 2020)

A student at Beachland Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday and 15 classmates were directed to quarantine in the second case at the barrier island’s only public school.

An adult at St. Edward’s School tested positive for COVID-19 last week and three students were directed to quarantine, said spokeswoman Monica Jennings. It was the sixth case at the private K-12 school.

And St. Helen Catholic School closed until Nov. 30 after two students were diagnosed with the virus during the week ending Nov. 14, the fifth and sixth cases at the K-8 school on the Vero mainland.

Meanwhile, the virus maintained a high profile throughout the Indian River County School District.

A total of 37 public school students tested positive for the virus from Oct. 26 through Nov. 15 – the first three weeks of the second quarter – compared to 34 during the entire first quarter, district records show.

The 71 students diagnosed with COVID 19 since the start of the school year amounted to nearly 22 percent of the 399 students tested between Aug. 24 and Nov. 15.

A total of 21 staff members tested positive for the virus between Oct. 26 and Nov. 15, three times as many as the entire first quarter, district records show.

High positivity rates for students and staff and a significant increase in COVID-19 cases since late October slowed the push to phase out the School District’s controversial mandatory facemask policy.

The School Board voted on Oct. 15 to direct Superintendent David Moore to meet with medical and health experts and develop a plan to phase out the mandatory facemask policy after roughly 300 parents, teachers and students made public comments in person and via email.

Since then, the pandemic has worsened, two new School Board members who support the mandatory facemasks replaced two who were calling for the phase-out, and Moore has had time to consult with local pediatricians and state health officials.

“Due to the COVID-19 positivity rate ... phasing out face coverings should not be considered at the current time,” Moore said in a Nov. 17 report.

“Stakeholder feedback gathered has raised questions and concerns as to the timing of revising and phasing out of health and safety measures in place,” Moore said in the report to the School Board.

When conditions improve, the phase-out will start with Pre-K and kindergarten students, Moore said.

An updated School District Health and Safety Plan will be provided to the School Board for discussion at the Dec. 8 superintendent’s workshop.

Administrators are also focusing on preventing the spread of the virus when students return to class from Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30, Moore said.

“This in some ways will be a fresh start as we return from the Thanksgiving break,” Moore said during a Nov. 19 presentation on Facebook Live.

“Please do not come to school if you are experiencing any of those [COVID-19] symptoms,” Moore advised students. “If you have those symptoms and you do end up testing positive, the proactive step of not coming to school that day minimizes or eliminates quarantines of other students.”

Last week, a total of 13 students and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between Nov. 17 and Nov. 22, district records show. Another 94 students and one staff member were directed to quarantine.

That marked a slight decline from the 18 students and five staff members who tested positive for the virus from Nov. 10 to Nov. 16, and the 15 students and 10 staff members diagnosed with COVID-19 between Nov. 3 and Nov. 9.

Altogether, 82 students and 28 staff members have tested positive for the virus since the new school year started on Aug. 24, records show. A total of 1,005 students and 29 staff members have been directed to quarantine.

The district has about 17,000 students, most of whom are attending school in person.

St. Helen Catholic School began at-home learning on Tuesday after a fourth student at the school tested positive for COVID-19, the Diocese of Palm Beach said in a Nov. 19 statement. Two staff members had previously tested positive.

Students who had come in close contact with those who tested positive were directed to quarantine, but the Diocese statement did not specify how many.

A state Health Department report indicated two students tested positive for the virus at St. Helen during the week of Nov. 8-Nov. 14, one showing symptoms, one not.

That report indicated a student at St. Ed’s tested positive for the virus between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, but Jennings identified the person as an adult.

Three St. Ed’s students were directed to quarantine because they were exposed during an off-campus event before the adult knew about the positive test result, Jennings said.

The first COVID-19 case at Beachland Elementary was reported on Oct. 18 when a student tested positive, resulting in the quarantining of 15 students and two staff members.

At the time, several parents said they were not concerned about their children’s safety because of the health and safety measures at the island school.