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Coronavirus in Tampa Bay schools: a weekly update

The number of cases nears 16,000, a total that took nearly all of last school year to reach.
St Petersburg High students Sydney Conroy, left, and Toby Lam wear a masks as they arrive on Aug. 11, the first day of school in Pinellas County.
St Petersburg High students Sydney Conroy, left, and Toby Lam wear a masks as they arrive on Aug. 11, the first day of school in Pinellas County. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Sep. 4
Updated Sep. 4

As children continue to show up on campuses with COVID-19, School Boards across Florida are debating tougher masking requirements, often going against state directives.

Parents, meanwhile, are trying to make sense of school district dashboards that are inconsistent and sometimes reflect the struggle staff are having to present the data in real time.

Despite those imperfections, the numbers show clearly that this school year continues to look much worse than last year. In 2020-21, it was months before public schools in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas reached 1,000 cases combined.

As of Friday, the four-county total was approaching 16,000 cases — a milestone the region did not hit last year until shortly before the last day of school.

Below is a list of area schools with the highest case counts for this past week. But numbers for all schools, including monthly totals, can be found on the interactive map:

Hernando County: The area’s smallest school district enacted a mask mandate on Wednesday that allows parents to opt out of the requirement for their children. District staff members, however, are required to wear masks unless they can document a medical issue. The new rules take effect on Wednesday.

Previously, face coverings were entirely optional.

In the first four weeks of school, 64 cases of COVID-19 were reported at Explorer K-8 School, where an Aug. 21 video posted on Twitter showed a large number of unmasked staff members unpacking reading materials.

For the week ending Friday, there were 36 cases at Weeki Wachee High, 31 at Central High, 30 at Hernando High and 25 at Powell Middle School.

These schools had 20 or more cases each: Winding Waters K-8 (20), Springstead High (22), Chocachatti Elementary (21) and Spring Hill Elementary (20).

The districtwide total was 375 cases, with 1,089 so far this school year.

Hillsborough County: The school district remains locked in a battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis and education commissioner Richard Corcoran, who are challenging Hillsborough’s strict masking mandate. At issue is the requirement for a medical certificate if a student wishes to opt out and be on campus without a mask.

Related: Hillsborough schools tell state: We had every right to order masks

In a statement following one of the legal filings, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said Hillsborough is seeing fewer cases and quarantines since the School Board approved the mandate on Aug. 18.

The lower quarantine numbers are a given, as wearing a mask can cause the wearer to be excused from quarantine.

As for the case numbers: They continued to rise in the days following the School Board action. But since Aug. 23, the daily counts have been between 25 and 40 percent lower than those a week earlier.

The week’s total as of late Friday was 1,994 cases, with nearly all of the case-heavy schools located in the eastern part of the county.

Marshall Middle School in Plant City had the most cases for the week with 38.

A crowd gathers in the lobby at Hillsborough County school district headquarters on Aug. 18, when the School Board adopted the stricter masking rule being challenged by education commissioner Richard Corcoran.
A crowd gathers in the lobby at Hillsborough County school district headquarters on Aug. 18, when the School Board adopted the stricter masking rule being challenged by education commissioner Richard Corcoran. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Durant High was close behind with 36. The school had a large numbers of cases last year, and has reported 120 cases since classes resumed on Aug. 10.

Burns Middle School in Brandon had 35 cases while Barrington Middle in Lithia had 33.

Gaither and Strawberry Crest high schools had 32 cases each. Spoto High had 30.

Pasco County: Outbreaks continue, largely in middle schools, as the district tries to selectively encourage masking and quarantines to minimize the disruption in learning.

The week saw 1,098 cases across the district — a 27 percent drop from the previous week but still many times greater than in 2020-21.

Cypress Creek High and Gulf High led the list with 43 and 42 cases, respectively. These schools had 30 cases or more: Wesley Chapel High (38), Starkey Ranch K-8 (35), Zephyrhills High (33), Hudson Academy 4-8 and Pasco High (32 each) and Charles S. Rushe Middle School (31).

These Pasco schools have reported 100 or more cases since schools reopened: Cypress Creek Middle (116), Cypress Creek High (104) Hudson High (140), River Ridge High (101), Starkey Ranch K-8 (132), and Wesley Chapel High (119).

Sunlake High students arrive Aug. 10, the first day of school in Pasco County.
Sunlake High students arrive Aug. 10, the first day of school in Pasco County. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Across the district as of late Friday, 4,267 cases have been reported since the school year began.

Pinellas County: As the district continues to keep masking voluntary, cases are on the rise. Pinellas’ online dashboard includes only those cases confirmed positive by the health department. In its current form, the list does not include charter schools.

For the past week, Pinellas reported 1,416 cases, up from 951 the week before.

Hollins High reported 55 cases. There were 46 at Pinellas Park Middle and 41 at Carwise Middle.

A sign outside of the track and football field at St. Petersburg's Hollins High, where 55 cases of COVID-19 were reported this past week.
A sign outside of the track and football field at St. Petersburg's Hollins High, where 55 cases of COVID-19 were reported this past week. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Seminole High reported 39 cases while there were 33 at Osceola Middle. Madeira Beach Fundamental had 30.

These locations had 20 or more cases: John Hopkins Middle (29), Pinellas Park High (27), Meadowlawn Middle (25); Palm Harbor University High, Largo Middle and North Shore Elementary (24 each). The district’s Walter Pownall Service Center had 23 cases. Azalea and Oak Grove middle schools had 22 each. Tyrone Middle had 21. East Lake High and the district’s administrative headquarters in Largo had 20 cases each.

Across the four districts, the weekly total as of late Friday was 4,036 cases, for a year-end total of 15,795.

Previous reports:

Aug. 28

Aug. 21

Aug. 14