Coronavirus in Tampa Bay schools: a weekly update

More than 600 cases were reported in the week before winter break.
Plant High School in South Tampa has more known COVID-19 cases than any other in the area for the current school year, with 84.
Plant High School in South Tampa has more known COVID-19 cases than any other in the area for the current school year, with 84. [ Times (2004) ]
Published Dec. 19, 2020|Updated Dec. 19, 2020

Reflecting the rest of society, COVID-19 is spreading exponentially in Tampa Bay area schools.

What used to be 100 or 200 cases a week grew to 500 — and now, in the week before the winter break, to more than 600.

Schools that never reported a case are showing multiple cases. Turkey Creek Middle School in east Hillsborough, for example, reported eight on Thursday.

School officials invariably say the disease is not being spread in school, but outside school.

Regardless of where it originates, it is in schools everywhere. The Tampa Bay Times is charting all reports on this map, which reflects only those that are known to us. Private schools are not required to report the cases to us and some districts do not track charter school cases either.

Here are the hotspots around the region:

Hernando County: Not too many weeks ago, Hernando County had logged only a few dozen cases.

Now the total is 283, with 71 of them coming this week alone.

The largest numbers were in the high schools: 11 in Central High, 10 in Hernando High, eight at Nature Coast Technical High and another eight at Springstead High. There were five cases each at the Challenger and Explorer K-8 schools. There were four at Winding Waters K-8.

Hillsborough County: When classes dismissed for winter break, the district had logged 325 cases since last Saturday and 2,324 since the beginning of school on Aug. 31. Despite those numbers, the district has embarked on a marketing plan that aims to get charter school and homeschool students re-enrolled in the district schools. There is also a desire to convince distance-learning students that they are better off inside school buildings.

Thirteen cases were reported this week at Armwood High, doubling the number at that location since the beginning of the school year. There were 11 at Bloomingdale High, eight at Turkey Creek Middle and seven at the school district offices.

These schools had six cases each: Chamberlain High, Coleman Middle, Lamb Elementary, Leto High and Plant High, which continues to lead the district with 84 since the beginning of the school year.

These schools had five cases each: Brandon High, Dickenson Elementary, Mintz Elementary, Pepin Academies, Sunlake Academy of Math and Science, Symmes Elementary and Tampa Bay Tech High.

These schools had four cases each: Colson Elementary, Eisenhower Middle, Gaither High, Henderson Hammock Charter, Hill Middle, Lockhart Elementary, Newsome High, Shields Middle, Spoto High, Strawberry Crest High, Sumner High, Westchase Elementary and Winthrop Charter.

Students of Berkeley Preparatory High School react to a devastating 33-21 loss during the Class 3A state semifinal on Dec. 4 in Tampa.
Students of Berkeley Preparatory High School react to a devastating 33-21 loss during the Class 3A state semifinal on Dec. 4 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Pasco County: While COVID-19 reports have escalated in all other districts, Pasco County seems to be slowing down. On the week following Thanksgiving break, there were 183 cases in Pasco. In the week ending Dec. 11 there were 146, and this past week there were 125. High schools, as elsewhere, showed the most cases: Six this week at Anclote and Pasco; five each at Land O’Lakes and Sunlake; and four each at Fivay, J.W. Mitchell and Marchman Technical College.

Pinellas County: The 83 cases in Pinellas were scattered throughout the county, as is typical, with rarely more than two or three at a single school.

A few exceptions: There were four staff cases at the administrative headquarters in Largo and four at Tarpon Springs High.

This was a big week for sports week quarantines in Pinellas. The varsity boys basketball team and the wrestling team were sent home at Dunedin High, as were the varsity and junior varsity boys basketball teams at Gibbs, Northeast and Seminole high schools.

Areawide, there were 604 cases this week, with a total to date of 4,699. Assuming that quarantines are being handled similarly throughout the area, coronavirus has directly affected 75,000 students and staff since the start of the school year. If those quarantines were distributed evenly, that would amount to roughly 20 percent of the school population.

Colleges and Universities:

Since Dec. 11, the University of South Florida reported that five students and nine employees across the school’s campuses have tested positive. Cases listed are those that students, faculty or the health department report to the university and those who test positive at the Student Health Center.

Since Dec. 4, the University of Tampa reported that two students and three employees have tested positive. The school also reported 754 of its 827 reported cases from the beginning of the semester have recovered as “symptom free and not contagious.” Cases reported are those who self-report or are diagnosed at the student health center.

Over the same period, St. Petersburg College reported four cases across its 13 campuses and Hillsborough Community College reported eight cases across its four campuses. Eckerd College reported one employee case this week.

Previous reports:

Week ending Aug. 28

Week ending Sept. 4

Week ending Sept. 11

Week ending Sept. 18

Week ending Sept. 25

Week ending Oct. 4

Week ending Oct. 11

Week ending Oct. 18

Week ending Oct. 23

Week ending Oct. 30

Week ending Nov. 6

Week ending Nov. 13

Week ending Nov. 20

Week ending Dec. 4

Week ending Dec. 11

Staff writer Divya Kumar contributed to this report.