PALMETTO, Fla. (WWSB) - Dr. Scott Hopes, a Manatee County School Board member and epidemiologist with the University of South Florida, told ABC7 that almost 100 people were sent home from Palmetto High School due to possible COVID-19 exposure.
Dr. Hopes also told ABC7 that he urged the Manatee Schools District to notify family members on Sunday. He says that did not happen.
Hopes also explained that staff in the school did not follow policies and one staff member infected another. Another case, Hopes said, was the result of the school was not practicing adequate social distancing in classroom. Plus, all six classes that the teacher taught, also may have been exposed, so that’s why 100 students were sent home.
“Those classes had to be put under a 14-day quarantine under an abundance of caution because we could not identify or rule out anyone from not being exposed because we could not determine what seat anyone was sitting in on a particular day, during a particular class,” explained Dr. Hopes.
Dr. Hopes says it has been proven that the protocol the manatee county school district has is effective because other schools have had cases and have controlled it from being spread.
“That’s what we need to learn. The three weeks leading up to Labor Day weekend, at least for me, and the reason why I supported bringing students back to the classroom on August 17th, was to put our strategy into place and put these protocols into operation, and then identify any gaps or compliance in our plan, so that when students and staff came back after Labor Day weekend, we are ready to learn and to educate, and we will have this nonsense behind us,” said Dr. Hopes.
Starting tomorrow, Dr. Hopes says all schools will have strict social distancing regulations, all classrooms will have seating charts, and these charts will also be stored digitally so that the school district’s epidemiologist can have access to them for contact tracing.
“There are plenty of layers in the chain where failures occurred. We have learned from it. I can assure the public that the district has learned from it. The School Board is aware of it, and I can assure the public and the parents of our students that things are going to definitely be different. We are taking this seriously, and I personally do not expect a situation of this magnitude to occur ever again,” Dr. Hopes explained.
These students are being told to remain home in quarantine while doing eLearning. The earliest day they may return to campus is Thursday, September 10th.
Manatee County Schools would not release any more information than confirming that there was a high number of quarantines but did include the message below that was sent to family members on Tuesday:
Palmetto High School Families and Employees – I am calling to update you on a confirmed case of COVID-19 on our campus that I first informed you about yesterday.
The case resulted in a abnormal number of students being quarantined from our campus for a period of 14 days. The reason for the number of students quarantined was due to the fact that the school did not have up-to-date seating charts of each class. As a result, the Department of Health epidemiologist, working in conjunction with the District’s Operations Center, was unable to clearly identify those students who had Direct Exposure to the confirmed case.
The majority of the students quarantined were sent home out of an extreme abundance of caution because the contact tracing could not formally exclude them from Direct Exposure. As a result of this case, we have made sure seating charts are produced in each classroom so that the Department of Health can do a more proficient job of contact tracing when necessary.
According to the last date of known exposure, students on quarantine should be able to return to school as early as Thursday, September 10th– as long as they are not exhibiting any COVID-19 related symptoms or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. By the way, it is important to note that if an individual is placed on quarantine, a negative test result during the 14 days does not allow the individual to return to school or work. They must complete the 14 days and be symptom free to return.
In the meantime, those students on quarantine can continue their studies through eLearning. Please call the school if you have questions pertaining to your child’s schoolwork or return-to-school status.
Please note that we continue to take mitigation measures at our school including taking temperatures, wearing masks, asking symptom-related questions of all students and staff daily, cleaning and disinfecting daily and limiting access to our campus. Most importantly, if a student or staff member feels sick or believes they have symptoms, please stay home until you are symptom free.
Thank you, and we will continue to update you as warranted.