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Coronavirus in Tampa Bay schools: a weekly update

The area’s four districts are seeing record-setting numbers of COVID-19 among students and staff.
Students arrive at Skycrest Elementary during first day of school on Aug, 11, 2021, in Clearwater. Pinellas County has reported 800 cases of COVID-19 after seven days of school, with more than 500 of them in the past week.
Students arrive at Skycrest Elementary during first day of school on Aug, 11, 2021, in Clearwater. Pinellas County has reported 800 cases of COVID-19 after seven days of school, with more than 500 of them in the past week. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 21
Updated Aug. 21

The last week’s COVID-19 numbers have shattered all records in Tampa Bay’s public schools, sending thousands of students and staff into quarantine and helping to drive controversial decisions by school boards around the state.

Schools struggled last year to stay on task while cleaning, tracking the virus with contact tracing, notifying parents of illness and sending children home. The activity is far more intense this year, with many more children crowded into classrooms, often without masks.

It’s showing in the numbers as the delta virus continues to infect more children and cause more deaths across the state.

During this past week, according to school district dashboards, there were 2,153 cases in Hillsborough, 523 in Pinellas, 333 in Pasco and 248 in Hernando. That adds up to 3,257 cases and does not include private schools.

Related: Florida’s COVID deaths climb as children lead state in positivity rate

Last year, weekly totals for the area generally ranged between 300 and 500. And at this time of year they were closer to 200.

Since the schools reopened on Aug. 10 and 11, the four districts have reported a combined 4,980 cases. That’s more than a fourth of the way toward last year’s total, which was fewer than 18,000.

An areawide total for the number of students and staff who are quarantined or isolated was unavailable this week. But Tampa Bay’s two largest districts, Hillsborough and Pinellas, together tallied nearly 16,000 students and staff who were out of school due to the virus.

Those numbers come amid court battles over the state’s ban on school mask mandates, and as a growing number of Florida school boards vote to flout the ban. Joining the Broward and Alachua districts this week were Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho cited Hillsborough’s soaring case numbers as one reason he recommended a mask mandate for his district.

Related: COVID is still a deadly threat to older Floridians

Here is a look, county by county, at the Tampa Bay schools with the most cases:

Hernando County: After two weeks of classes, the district is reporting 340 cases. That’s roughly a third of the cases that Hernando reported in all of last year.

The past week saw 21 cases at Cocachatti Elementary, about as many as Cocachatti posted in all of last year. Hernando High reported 18 cases and there were 17 each at Powell Middle School and Westside Elementary.

Central High and Challenger K-8 each saw 15 cases. Springstead High had 11.

Hillsborough County: The 2,153 cases across the district this week are too many to list here. For school-by-school totals since students returned on Aug. 10, consult the interactive map below. Totals in the map will be for all of August.

The School Board attracted national attention when it voted 5-2 to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis and mandate masks for 30 days, with the ability to opt out for medical reasons.

The Hillsborough School Board listens as residents voice their concerns during an emergency meeting Wednesday. The board voted 5-2 to require masks for 30 days, until Sept. 17, with the ability for students to opt out for medical reasons.
The Hillsborough School Board listens as residents voice their concerns during an emergency meeting Wednesday. The board voted 5-2 to require masks for 30 days, until Sept. 17, with the ability for students to opt out for medical reasons. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Here are the schools and other district locations with the largest numbers of cases this past week.

Thirty cases or more: Sickles High (53), the district offices (41), Waterset Charter (37), Durant High (33), Winthrop Charter (32), Plant High (31), Newsome High (30).

These schools reported between 20 and 29 cases: Sumner High (29), SouthShore Charter (28), Crestwood Elementary (27), Lowry Elementary (27), Spoto High (26), McKitrick Elementary (25), Plant City High (24), Gaither High (23), Chiles Elementary (22), Ippolito Elementary (21), Riverview High (21), Walden Lake Elementary (21) and Steinbrenner High (20).

Pasco County: The district reported 333 cases, including 21 at Starkey Ranch K-8, a brand-new school in Odessa.

Pasco Elementary had 13 cases. Charles S. Rushe Middle School had 10. Another 10 employees in the transportation department are out with COVID-19.

Cypress Creek Middle, Thomas E. Weightman Middle and Wesley Chapel High each reported nine cases.

There were eight cases each at Centennial Middle, Deer Park Elementary and River Ridge High.

Pinellas County: The district reported 523 cases this past week on its campuses, including in its charter schools. Supporters of a tougher masking rule say they will push for such a measure during Tuesday’s School Board meeting. Pinellas strongly encourages masks but does not require them.

Leading the district for the number of cases was Plato Academy in Clearwater with 24.

Parents and students gather in front of Pinellas County school district headquarters on Aug. 9, 2021 to support a mask mandate in schools. District officials decided to stay with their plans to strongly encourage masks for students and staff, but not require them.
Parents and students gather in front of Pinellas County school district headquarters on Aug. 9, 2021 to support a mask mandate in schools. District officials decided to stay with their plans to strongly encourage masks for students and staff, but not require them. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

East Lake High was second with 19 cases. Palm Harbor University High and the Walter Pownall Service Center each had 14. Largo High and Pinellas High each had 12. Osceola Fundamental High had 11 and Pinellas Park Middle School had 10.

Madeira Beach Fundamental School reported nine cases.