Coronavirus rates in the Tampa Bay area schools are continuing to drop, emboldening school officials to ease some, but not all restrictions.
The totals for this past week show a continued and marked improvement over the August case counts, which totaled more than 5,600 weekly across Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Despite the improvement, the 1,278 cases recorded for the week ending Friday are still about twice as many as were seen in a typical week in 2020-21.
Below is a district-by-district look at area schools with the most cases. The interactive map contains case numbers for all schools.
Hernando County: From a high of 396 cases in the week ending Sept. 3, Hernando has improved to just 85 cases this past week. Earlier in the month, the district imposed a masking order for students and staff that allows students to opt out with parental approval, in line with state directives.
Of note this week: Central High reported 10 cases. There were 11 cases at D.S. Parrott Middle School, nine at Suncoast Elementary and seven at Weeki Wachee High. Challenger K-8 and Deltona Elementary had six cases each.
To date, there have been 1,618 cases in the Hernando County schools.
Hillsborough County: The district is continuing to require medical documentation for any student wishing to opt out of the district’s masking rule, despite contradictory instructions from the Florida Department of Health.
But, encouraged by falling case counts, the district notified volunteer organizations late in the week that they can resume school visits, as long as they honor safety protocols. “I know many of you have parents and community partners that are anxious to get back into your buildings,” superintendent Addison Davis wrote in a letter to principals.
The district referenced its improved statistics in a response to the Department of Education, in which it defended its continuation of its masking rules until Oct. 15.
The numbers this week were lower than they have been since they began to climb in August: 545.
Newsome High, which spent much of last year near the top of the list, had the most cases, with 14. Wharton High reported 13 cases. Lutz K-8, Plant High and Riverview High each had 10. The total number of cases in the district since the school year began stood at 10,330 as of Friday.
While Hillsborough is standing firm where masking is concerned, the district is complying with the state order to allow parents to opt their children out of quarantines after an exposure to COVID-19, providing they have no symptoms.
And some School Board members are asking staff to watch how Hillsborough’s COVID-19 numbers compare with those districts that do not have masking rules.
While it is unclear what factors are driving the numbers locally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week made public three studies in an effort to promote masking in schools. “These studies found that school districts without a universal masking policy in place were more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks,” the agency wrote in its news release.
Pasco County: There were 351 cases in Pasco, which until now has seen the virus spread aggressively, especially through its high schools. Pasco and Pinellas counties strongly recommend but do not require masks.
This week, most Pasco school totals were in the single digits.
The exceptions: Thomas E. Weightman Middle School reported 15 cases. There were 14 each at Fivay and J. W. Mitchell high schools, and 12 at Cypress Creek High.
Zephyrhills High had 11 cases. There were 10 each at Land O’Lakes and Wiregrass Ranch high schools.
Pinellas County: The weekly count in the district dropped to 297 cases, showing a steady decline from a a high of 1,481 in the week ending Sept. 3 and 841 in the week ending Sept. 17.
Osceola Fundamental and Pinellas Park high schools led the group with 10 cases each. To date, Pinellas Park High has seen 126 cases, one of the largest numbers in the district.
This past week there were nine cases each at Hollins and Seminole high schools, and eight at Safety Harbor Middle School.
Across the four Tampa Bay area districts, more than 23,000 cases have been reported so far this school year.