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COVID-19 cases on the rise again in Tampa Bay area schools

Tampa Bay Times logo Tampa Bay Times 12/18/2021 Marlene Sokol, Tampa Bay Times
A masked school bus driver is pictured during arrival as students arrive at Leto High School for the first day of school for Hillsborough County students, Tuesday, August 10, 2021 in Tampa. © MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE/Tampa Bay Times/Times A masked school bus driver is pictured during arrival as students arrive at Leto High School for the first day of school for Hillsborough County students, Tuesday, August 10, 2021 in Tampa.

After largely disappearing from Tampa Bay area schools, COVID-19 is making a bit of a resurgence.

Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties reported a total of 308 cases this week.

That’s far fewer than the schools experienced in August and September, when the delta variant drove weekly counts into the thousands.

But it is a significant jump from levels seen in the previous eight weeks, when the average weekly total was 160.

The growth in cases, shown primarily in Hillsborough at 199 for the week, comes at a time when schools have fewer tools to combat the spread. State law no longer allows public schools to require face coverings, although students have the option of wearing them. Nor can schools require students to quarantine if they are healthy.

Tracye Brown, Hillsborough’s chief of federal programs and a COVID-19 point person at the height of the pandemic, acknowledged this week the limited powers schools now have if the virus continues to spread.

“We are keeping a close watch on the situation,” she said. “We are encouraging people to maintain their good hand-washing habits and socially distance, when possible.”

Brown said she hopes families will practice COVID-19 safety as they gather for the winter holidays. Last year, the return to school in January brought a widespread surge in illness.

Families are also being encouraged to vaccinate their children, and the district held two vaccine clinics in East Hillsborough on Dec. 11.

The week’s biggest problems were at Williams Middle, a magnet school in East Tampa, which had 39 cases for a year-to-date total of 121. Of those, 58 happened in December.

Next came Rampello K-8, another magnet school in downtown Tampa, which had 22 cases this week.

Hillsborough High schools had 11 cases and East Bay High had seven.

Cases in Hernando County totaled 12, an increase from previous weeks, when they numbered five and seven.

In Pasco County, there were 55 cases, with the greatest numbers at Seven Springs Middle School, which had seven, and Oakstead Elementary, with six.

In Pinellas County, there were 45 cases, a relatively small number given the size of the school district, which enrolls just under 100,000 students. Dunedin High School had the greatest number, with four cases.

Since students returned to school on Aug. 10, the Tampa Bay Times has recorded 27,006 cases of COVID-19 across the area’s four public school systems. Fewer than 18,000 cases were counted during the entire 2020-21 school year.

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