Democratic Florida Representative Shevrin Jones is calling out school districts for not including all cases of COVID-19 involving its students and staff members.
“I think it’s irresponsible of us if we’re not counting all cases,” said Jones in response to our recent investigation that found several Florida school districts are excluding the number of students and staff members who test positive while in quarantine from campus.
“The last thing we need to do here in Florida is to lie about our numbers,” said Jones, who was diagnosed with the Coronavirus himself over the summer and has since recovered.
The findings first came to our attention after we spoke with Amanda Brice, a Polk County mom who’s son tested positive for the virus a few days after being quarantined from his high school because of a student case at the school.
Brice has no doubt her son contracted the virus from a friend at school but at the time Brice told us “the school considered him an at-home case.” Weeks later, she still can’t get a straight answer on whether her son’s case is being included in the district’s overall total number of cases.
A Polk County district spokesperson told us cases are included as long as the student had close contact with others on campus and the county health department determined further quarantines are necessary.
After reaching out to about a dozen school districts around the state, several told us unless a student case can be traced back to campus, students or staff members who test positive while quarantined from school are not included in a district’s total.
“The reason why you test a quarantined individual is because you think they were exposed at school,” explained Dr. Frederick Southwick, a University of Florida Professor of Medicine, infectious disease specialist and advocate for rapid tests in schools.
Southwick acknowledges there are legitimate reasons a student or school staff member’s case should not be included in school counts.
In Leon County, a school district spokesperson also told us they are only counting cases when it is on a district campus and there may have been the potential to expose other students or staff.
In hard-hit Miami-Dade County, where high caseloads forced the district to delay the start of brick and mortar schools for another few weeks, a district spokesperson said they do not play on including cases that are diagnosed while a student or staff member is quarantining at home.
“If that’s the direction that Miami-Dade County is going to then I hope they reconsider,” said Jones who represents parts of South Florida where several districts including the Broward and Palm Beach County county school districts told us they are including these cases in district totals.
“We have this total inconsistency of how we are tracking COVID, in how we are reporting COVID. It should not be this difficult,” said Jones who believes the bigger issues rest with the state.
Despite the Governor’s promise to make the number of school cases public, Florida’s Department of Health has yet to release the data leaving districts to post their own numbers using their own guidelines. The department has yet to respond to our request for comment.
“The leaders at the top, they have to give direction that trickles down to the separate counties and to the districts so they can give direction. if no one gives direction everyone is going to do what they want to do and that’s what’s happening right now,” said Jones.