WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County leaders on Friday said there are no plans, at this point, to return students to all virtual education as COVID-19 cases surge in our area.
During a news conference at the county's Emergency Operations Center, Mayor Dave Kerner was asked if there's any chance the School District of Palm Beach County will return to distance learning only, similar to when the 2020-21 academic year started in August.
While Kerner said he didn't want to comment specifically on school district policy, he did say he spoke with School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri on Thursday, and the issue of students returning or not returning to in-classroom instruction after the Thanksgiving break was discussed.
"From my conversations with him, again, not binding, I'm not an authority on it, but that wasn't an option," Kerner said, referring to a return to all virtual education.
The School District of Palm Beach County is on Thanksgiving break until Monday, Nov. 30.
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Dr. Alina Alonso, the health director for Palm Beach County, said the county's daily COVID-19 positivity rate reached 10.44% on Nov. 13 and 9.55% on Nov. 16, meaning there's "widespread county virus."
"The ability to understand who spread it to you goes way down because there are so many people who are asymptomatic that you don't know where you caught it from," Alonso said.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 60,729 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,647 coronavirus-related deaths in Palm Beach County.
With Thanksgiving just days away, Palm Beach County leaders on Friday made an urgent push for residents to limit their holiday gatherings next week to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Most of us are excited about the holidays. We want to be with our family," Kerner said. "It's easy to let our guard down, but we have to remember how much hard work went into getting this county where we're at."
Officials asked residents to only gather with people inside your own household, and if you are planning to host additional family members, consider holding your celebration outdoors.
"This is gonna be a Thanksgiving holiday season like we've not had before," said Commissioner Gregg Weiss. "But we're asking everybody to do the right thing, make these difficult decisions."
Earlier on Friday, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel led a news conference in West Palm Beach, where she suggested that people hold virtual celebrations with family members.
On Friday, Dr. Alonso touted a pair of "exciting" and "promising" vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, but cautioned that it could be at least April, maybe even later, before the vaccines are available to the general public.
"We are ready, we're planning, and we're continuing to get information from the state, from the feds, on how that's gonna be rolled out and how that's gonna be handled," Alonso said.
The health director added that it will then take time for "herd immunity" to develop, meaning when 70% to 80% of the population has either received the vaccine or gotten infected with COVID-19.
"That's when you start relaxing and we can start going into a more normal period," Alonso said.