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Coronavirus in Tampa Bay schools: a weekly update

Cases are falling areawide as school districts prepare for in-person graduations.
A classroom scene at east Hillsborough's Dowdell Middle School, posted on the school Twitter site in November. The school has reported 23 COVID-19 cases so far in March, boosting its year-to-date total to 42.
A classroom scene at east Hillsborough's Dowdell Middle School, posted on the school Twitter site in November. The school has reported 23 COVID-19 cases so far in March, boosting its year-to-date total to 42. [ Hillsborough County Public Schools ]
Published Mar. 13
Updated Mar. 13

(Note: Because of spring break, there will be no weekly report on March 20.)

For the first time in months, the weekly coronavirus case count in schools across Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties appears to have fallen below 500. But some relative hot spots remain, particularly in the eastern part of Hillsborough.

Double-digit high school numbers have all but ceased, and school districts are in various stages of planning in-person graduations with limited allowance for guests. The announced limits are especially severe in Hillsborough — two per senior — as the district holds its 28 graduations in an indoor venue at the Florida State Fairgrounds, sometimes scheduling three or four in a single day.

The district said it developed its protocols with the guidance of public health officials. But a petition to loosen the restrictions soon followed.

The graph below shows the trends — although it is impossible to predict what will happen after spring break, when families gather and travel to crowded settings.

This map shows monthly activity at more than 400 schools since the beginning of the school year in August. Schools that experienced fewer than three cases this week are not listed in the article, but the cases are captured on the map.

Hernando County: Case counts in the district continue to rise, with 39 cases this past week.

The greatest number, eight, was at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville. That follows five the previous week.

This week there were six cases at Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill and four among support employees.

Springstead and Weeki Wachee high schools had three cases each.

Hillsborough County: Cases have decreased districtwide, although some schools continue to experience problems. The great majority of schools with three or more cases are in the eastern half of the county in Brandon, Riverview and Plant City, where the annual Strawberry Festival is in full swing.

The annual Plant City Strawberry Festival was in full swing during the second week of March, with members of the Hillsborough County School Board and Excellence in Education award winners taking part in the celebration. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]
The annual Plant City Strawberry Festival was in full swing during the second week of March, with members of the Hillsborough County School Board and Excellence in Education award winners taking part in the celebration. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]

Among those with problems: Dowdell Middle School had 12 cases this past week and 11 on the week ending March 5, for a total of 23 in March and 42 since students returned on Aug. 31.

Also of note: Victory Charter School in Citrus Park, formerly known as Avant Garde, had 12 this week, for a year-to-date total of 19.

Lennard High had seven cases and Spoto High had six. Plant City High had five cases. All three are in the eastern half of the county.

Spoto High School, shown before the pandemic began, reported six cases of coronavirus in the week ending March 12, 2021. [Times (2019)]
Spoto High School, shown before the pandemic began, reported six cases of coronavirus in the week ending March 12, 2021. [Times (2019)]

These schools had four cases each: Brooker Elementary, Mulrennan Middle, Randall Middle and Waterset charter, all in east Hillsborough. The school district offices had four cases.

These schools had three cases each: Crestwood Elementary, Freedom High, Gibsonton Elementary, Jackson Elementary, Mitchell Elementary, Newsome High, Rampello K-8 and Williams Middle.

Pasco County: The district’s case count held steady this week at 92.

Seven cases were in mySchool Online, the distance learning program.

Five were at River Ridge High. Four were at J.W. Mitchell High.

Sanders Memorial, Mittye P. Locke, Fox Hollow and Bexley elementary schools reported three cases each.

Pinellas County: With 135 cases for the first four days of the week, Pinellas County is also holding steady.

Seminole High led the district this week with 10 cases.

Palm Harbor Middle School reported eight cases and Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School had seven.

Sexton Elementary reported six cases and Palm Harbor University High had five cases.

Curlew Creek Elementary, Dunedin High and Pinellas Park High reported four cases each.

Clearwater, Gibbs and Largo high schools had three cases each, and three were reported at district headquarters in Largo.

The total across all four counties in Tampa Bay was 456 cases this week, bringing the case county to 12,512 since students returned to school in August. These do not include Friday’s cases in Pinellas County, which are not yet known.

Colleges and universities:

Since March 5, the University of South Florida reported that 18 students and seven employees across the school’s campuses have tested positive. Cases listed are those that have been reported to the university and those who test positive at the Student Health Center.

Over the same time period, the University of Tampa reported five student cases and one employee case. St. Petersburg College reported one case across its 13 campuses and Hillsborough Community College reported five cases across its four campuses.

Eckerd College reported no active cases among residential students this past week.

Recent reports:

Week ending Feb. 5

Week ending Feb. 12

Week ending Feb. 19

Week ending Feb. 26

Week ending March 5

Staff writer Divya Kumar contributed to this report.