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COVID-19 in Tampa Bay schools: a weekly update

Some schools are employing “surgical” quarantines, others are sending students home by the dozens. This is the third in a series of weekly reports.

Since local schools began to open on Aug. 24, more than 200 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Tampa Bay Times' four-county coverage area. District by district, here’s what the numbers looked like this week:

Hernando County has logged a small number of cases since school opened on Aug. 31. This week there were six: Staff cases reported Monday at Powell Middle and Spring Hill Elementary; a student case at Hernando High and a staff case in the adult education department on Tuesday; and, on Thursday, a student case at Floyd Elementary and a staff case in the support operations department. To date, there have been a total of three student and nine employee cases.

Hillsborough County, which is about 10 times the size of Hernando and reopened schools on the same day, has reported 88 cases — 53 this past week — and clusters are beginning to emerge. Bryan Elementary, which serves a largely agricultural area in Plant City and is 84 percent Hispanic, has had six student cases in the last two weeks. During the Labor Day weekend, there were reports of three staff cases at Morgan Woods Elementary following another on Sept. 4. A fifth staff case was reported at Morgan Woods on Thursday. And Walker Middle, an International Baccalaureate school in Odessa, recorded four student cases on Wednesday. There were three student cases this week at Sickles High.

Krishna Kothiya, 16, is dropped off at Hillsborough High by mom, Ami Kothiya, on Aug. 31, the first day campuses were open in Hillsborough County. Krishna takes IB classes and was afraid to tackle the more rigorous curriculum online. "It feels mentally crowded," she said of online classes. "You're in one space but have so many tasks to complete." [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Hillsborough’s dashboard is updated frequently, but does not include quarantine information. School Board member Karen Perez asked Tuesday for more disclosure, and said Friday that she will continue to press the issue with superintendent Addison Davis.

Here are the rest of the past week’s cases, including those from Sept. 5, 6 and 7:

There was one case apiece at Collins, Forest Hills, Palm River, Potter, Reddick, Riverhills, Ruskin, Thompson, and Trapnell elementary schools; Roland Park K-8; and Buchanan, Ferrell, Greco, Madison, Marshall, Martinez, Monroe and Shields middle schools.

There was one case each at Durant, King, Leto, Middleton, Tampa Bay Technical and Wharton high schools, and one case each at the Kids Community College Elementary and Kids Community College SE charter schools.

Two cases each were reported at Bevis, Crestwood and Jackson elementary schools; Tomlin Middle, and Jefferson and Plant City high schools.

Student COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Sickles High School in Citrus Park. [Courtesy of Hillsborough County Public Schools]

Pasco County is by far the most transparent district, as it reports the student and faculty cases as well as statistics on quarantines. And some of those quarantines are quite large. Land O’Lakes High sent 101 students home after a case on Thursday, the second in the week, and canceled football games for the next two weeks.

All told, Pasco reports that its 59 cases to date have affected 1,133 students and 97 employees. Pasco’s student population accounts for 18 percent of the four Tampa Bay area school districts as a whole, suggesting that if the districts are responding in a consistent manner, they have sent at least 5,000 students and adults home these last two weeks.

But that is a big assumption, as districts are under pressure to limit quarantine actions, in what state leaders describe as a “surgical” approach.

In addition to Land O’Lakes High, there was one case each at Anclote, Cotee River, Denham Oaks, Fox Hollow, Trinity Oaks and Woodland elementary schools.

There was one case at Harry Schwettman Educational Center, and one each at Hudson, Pasco, Pineview and, River Ridge Middle; and Hudson, River Ridge and Sunlake high schools. Two cases each were reported at Schrader and West Zephyrhills Elementary; and at Pasco and Zephyrhills high schools.

Centennial Middle had three cases.

Pinellas County logged 17 public school cases this week, and made modifications in the way it is handling quarantines. The district said all direction on contact tracing and quarantines comes from the Department of Health which, in keeping with directives from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, is promoting the surgical approach. At Thurgood Marshall Middle School, which had a student case on Sept. 4, the response caused some concern among the staff.

Teachers walk into the Pinellas School Board headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Largo. The teachers had plans to speak during a school board meeting to protest the district's requirement that teachers teach in-person and online students at the same time. District officials decided to use the model to keep social distancing in classrooms. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Private and charter schools are not under the same pressure to avoid shut downs. In St. Petersburg, Northside Christian School closed its upper level campus for a day of cleaning, following COVID-19 diagnoses of two siblings.

Here are the other public schools in Pinellas that reported cases this week: Blanton Elementary, Boca Ciega High, Clearwater Intermediate, Curlew Creek Elementary, Curtis Fundamental Elementary, Douglas Jamerson Elementary (one student and one employee), East Lake High (one student case affecting seven classrooms), Kings Highway Elementary, McMullen Booth Elementary (two students); and one case each at Osceola Middle, Ozona Elementary, Richard Jacobson Technical High, Shore Acres Elementary, Tarpon Springs Elementary and Westgate Elementary.

The total of the week in the four-county area: 109 cases. Total since Aug. 24: 221 cases.

Colleges and universities:

Over the last week, the University of South Florida reported that 32 students and two employees tested positive across the school’s three campuses. Cases listed are those that students, faculty or the health department report to the university.

During the same time period, the University of Tampa reported that 87 students had tested positive. By comparison, the University of Central Florida, with almost nine times the number of students as the University of Tampa, reported 75 cases over the last week. The University of Tampa’s count is from those who self-report or are diagnosed at the student health center.

On Friday, the University of Tampa announced it will not allow students to visit one another’s rooms in residence halls for the next two weeks.

Staff writer Divya Kumar contributed to this report.

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