PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The omicron variant of COVID-19 will be on the minds of many students and parents as children in Palm Beach County head back to the classroom on Wednesday.
Teachers are expected to return to work Tuesday ahead of students, but how many teachers are coming back is the big question.
Before winter break, COVID-19 cases in the School District of Palm Beach County were rising quickly after a quiet December.
The Friday before the last week of school, there were 49 positive COVID-19 cases among students. That number jumped to 175 by the last day of school before break. Staff member cases also increased.
The school district said it is implementing mandatory masks for all employees and visitors in doors starting Tuesday, and students are strongly encouraged to wear masks when they return.
The district is urging staff and students who are sick not to come to class.
The new case positivity rate for Palm Beach County is the highest among our five-county area.
A Palm Beach County high school teacher who had COVID the last week of school said he expects there will be a huge need for substitute teachers this month.
"I feel like this is actually going to be probably the hardest month throughout this entire pandemic as far as teaching goes, just because we are going to have so many people out," said Cheyne Seleski.
The school district has not released any information on how many teachers have already called out for the week.
Nothing shouts out new COVID-19 variant like a five-hour wait for a test.
"When I drive around, I see lines for hours and hours to get a test," Seleski said.
Seleski returns to work Tuesday after testing positive for COVID before winter break. He said this biggest challenge this month will be getting substitute teachers to cover sick staff.
"This has already been a problem. This is going to make this much worse," Seleski said.
Dr. Rhonda Trust said she’s not concerned about sending her three children back to school Wednesday.
"I know people have very different views on how to deal and live with this virus. Personally I feel that we are doing everything we can to keep our children healthy," Trust said.
The School District of Palm Beach County said it's continuing mitigation strategies, using air filters and purifiers in the classroom, enhancing cleaning, and providing hand sanitizer.
The district is urging sick staff and students to stay home. That could mean a strain on staffing, but how bad it will be is not known yet.
"Everything just kind of shuts down over winter break so when teachers start coming back tomorrow, yeah, I think we’ll get a better idea of how many teachers are going to be out," Seleski said.
At this time, the local teachers' union president said he does not know how many teachers may be out this week.