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Beachland Elementary seems to finally have COVID-19 outbreak under control

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of September 23, 2021)

Beachland Elementary School seemed to get its COVID-19 outbreak under control last week as a single student tested positive for the virus.

But the Vero Beach barrier island’s only public school still has the dubious distinction of more than doubling its number of COVID-19 cases this school year compared to all of 2020-2021.

A total of 41 students and teachers at Beachland Elementary have tested positive for the virus since the new school year started August 10, the school district reported Monday (Sept. 20).

That’s a more than 250 percent increase compared to the last school year when 16 people at Beachland Elementary tested positive for COVID-19, according to Florida Department of Health records.

However, eight students but no staff members have been diagnosed with the virus since Beachland Elementary reopened Sept. 7 after a two-week shutdown because a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than a quarter of the 51-member staff.

Overall, the school district reported a total of 1,214 COVID-19 cases as of Monday (Sept. 20) involving 1,020 students and 194 staff members.

That exceeds last year’s state-reported total of 1,007 cases by 207, or more than 20 percent, records show. The state Health Department reported 821 students, 62 staff members and 124 unknown people tested positive for COVID-19 in the county’s public schools in 2020-2021.

The pandemic has been trending downward since peaking during the week of Aug. 22 to Aug. 28, when 331 students and 73 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, school district records show.

Just five school staff members locally were out sick with the virus as of Monday, school district records show.

Another 120 students also tested positive for COVID-19 during the week and 28 were quarantined as of Monday, school district records show.

While Beachland and Treasure Coast Elementary schools had so many staff members out with COVID-19 they had to close for the end of August and beginning of September, other schools have been relatively unaffected by the pandemic.

Dodgertown Elementary has had a total of nine cases so far this school year involving six students and three teachers, school district records show. Liberty Magnet has had a total of 14 cases involving 13 students and one staff member.

In response to the differing levels of infection at each school, the Schools Board decided each of the district’s 22 schools will have its own facemask policy based on the level of infection among students and teachers.

The board voted 3-2 on Sept. 14 to approve a new COVID-19 mitigation strategy in which facemasks will be required for students when 3 percent or more of a school’s students and staff members have been diagnosed with an active case of the virus.

A parent’s note is needed for a student to opt out of the facemask requirement when the virus is impacting 3-to-4 percent of a school’s students and staff members.  If the virus impact exceeds 5 percent of a school’s population, medical reasons and/or a documented disability will be needed for a student to opt out of the facemask requirement.

Face-coverings are “highly recommended” when the virus is impacting 1-to-2 percent of a school’s students and staff members. If infections are below 1 percent, the masks are strictly optional.

The new policy was to go into effect Monday (Sept. 20) at elementary and middle schools and a week later at high schools.