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Health official: Cornonavirus will be in Hillsborough schools

Closed classrooms and potentially closed schools should be expected, said Dr. Douglas Holt.
Dr. Douglas Holt

Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department in Hillsborough County, told Hillsborough commissioners Thursday that there will be coronavirus within Hillsborough schools after the Aug. 31 start of in-person teaching. (Times 2016)
Dr. Douglas Holt Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department in Hillsborough County, told Hillsborough commissioners Thursday that there will be coronavirus within Hillsborough schools after the Aug. 31 start of in-person teaching. (Times 2016) [ Times (2016) ]
Published Aug. 20, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County public schools will see closed classrooms and potentially closed schools due to the spread of cornoavirus, a state health official said Thursday.

“We expect cases, we expect closures at least of classrooms and then potentially schools based on the outcomes of our investigation,’' said Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Florida Health Department in Hillsborough County.

Holt’s comments, before a meeting of Hillsborough County commissioners, came 11 days before Hillsborough County schools open for in-person teaching on Aug. 31.

Commissioner Kimberly Overman tried to press Holt on what would be the criteria for closing schools, but Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. interrupted the questioning.

“I think we’re about to go a little bit too far,’' Miller said, about the commission potentially interfering in School District decisions.

Holt couldn’t offer specifics to Overman’s inquiry, nor could he when Commissioner Sandy Murman asked if county emergency policies should change if the rate of positive coronavirus test results drops to 5 percent.

“The decision about what is a trigger, it comes down to what level of acceptable risk do you have? My role is to help the deciders make an informed decision,‘' Holt said.

The most recent state data showed a two-week average positivity rate in Hillsborough County at 8.24 percent. The rate dropped to 7 percent over the past week.

However, the positive test results among children ranged from 11 to 12 percent, and Overman said “at the county we have to be prepared for the increase in exposure when children are unable to socially distance at school.”

Holt said the public health impact on schools reopening won’t be known immediately.

“I don’t think you’ll know much until Oct. 1 or around there, three or so weeks, four weeks, after the official opening,’' he said.

Holt, offering a qualifier that he was not speaking on behalf of the Health Department, also said closing schools should be a regional issue.

“We really shouldn’t be closing schools county by county. There has to be shared criteria at least on a regional basis,’' he said.

He did not elaborate on what that criteria should be.

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