ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Health Director Dr. Raul Pino revealed late Tuesday afternoon the closure of Olympia High School announced on Sept. 6 was linked to an off-campus birthday party on Aug. 29th involving 13 students from Olympia and other schools.
The Orange County School District learned of the first positive case of COVID-19 at Olympia High School on Monday, Aug. 31, according to OCPS spokesperson Lorena Arias.
“When a school has a documented positive COVID-19 case, a schoolwide notification is sent to staff and families,” Arias said. “There have been several notifications sent to Olympia High School families regarding positive cases at the school. The first schoolwide notification was made Aug. 31. Contact tracing is done by the Florida Department of Health and the process takes time. Once FDOH notifies the district of who needs to quarantine, the principal will then contact those individuals and provide them with the letter from FDOH. On Sunday, with the recommendation of the FDOH it was decided to close Olympia HS based on the 156 individuals identified as having to quarantine in addition to the six positive (5 students, 1 staff) COVID-19 cases of which 3 were believed to have been at the same social community event.”
Orange County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said contact tracing is an “extensive process.”
“Here’s the problem when you talk about real-time data: We’ll get an indication from a parent that she thinks her child has a positive test we have to verify that and FDOH needs to verify and do contact racing for that child, who else has been exposed to that child,” Jenkins said. “It doesn’t happen in an instant, it takes some time. And while it may seem like there could be much more advanced notice, we were on that phone call Sunday afternoon and the calls started going out that same afternoon. The contact tracing alone and what doctors look at is pretty extensive, and then we communicated as quickly as possible. Those quarantines were notified as soon as possible.”
Olympia High School closed and transitioned to at-home virtual learning on Tuesday after six positive COVID-19 cases were confirmed and 156 students and teachers were potentially exposed.
“Having 19 teachers out of the school is absolutely problematic but more importantly having 156 exposures that might present additional positive cases was absolutely in our opinion and FDOH’s opinion and in my consultation with board members good enough to say we need to stop any potential spread at this point,” Jenkins said.
Dr. Jenkins said there’s no way to predict a closure and warned parents to be ready.
“You have to be prepared, we’ve never been in this predicament before, it is a public health emergency and so parents sort of need to have plan B in place ahead of time in case there’s a pivot from face to face two online instruction again.,” Jenkins said. “So every parent probably needs a backup plan, kind of like you would do if he was sick and couldn’t go to school, what’s your backup plan, go to grandma’s, take the laptop to grandma’s, just have to have a back-up plan for a potential pivot.”
All school districts in Central Florida said there is no hard-and-fast rule about closures. Each COVID-19 case in a school is looked at on a case-by-case basis by the district and Florida Department of Health.
Here’s what all Central Florida school districts that responded to News 6′s question said when asked about what their threshold is for a closure:
“Positive cases of staff or students would generate the conversation. When a positive case is made known, we provide DOH with all of the needed information (names, seating charts for classroom, bus, cafeteria, etc) to do their contact tracing and depending upon the outcome of their investigation, the health departments advise the superintendent to close, disinfect and quarantine a class or building or school. Every situation is different.”
“Our decision on whether to close a school would be guided by our local Department of Health, which has said it would look at each case individually before making any recommendations.”
“We don’t have a set threshold established. We work collaboratively with the Department of Health and look at each incident individually for contact tracing. For the only school that we have closed, the number of positives kept increasing amongst the staff, and we identified more than half the on-campus students had direct contact with a positive individual so needed to quarantine as a precaution to prevent spread. We didn’t have any exposure amongst the students and wanted to keep it that way. We know parents and students don’t take a school closure lightly and the district doesn’t either. Ultimately, our Superintendent, with input from the Department of Health, will make the decision based on what is best for the safety of our students and staff. It will depend on the number of students and staff who need to quarantine and those who have tested positive. If that happens, we will move all the students and teachers to digital learning so learning doesn’t stop.”
"Fortunately, we have not closed any schools in Marion County Public Schools. We continue discussing and refining our thresholds of closure; they vary from school to school, department to department. At this point, we’re most concerned about direct contacts being quarantined that could force us into an “operational” shutdown due to lack of personnel, not because of the number of positive COVID-19 cases. We are not ready to release those [thresholds of closure], sorry. They are not finalized."
“Per our re-opening plan, here are the scenarios that constitute a school closure: Single cases in multiple classrooms, Multiple cases in multiple classrooms, Significant staff absenteeism. Our BPS Rapid Response Team in collaboration with the Department of Health evaluate each case as it arises and discusses actions necessary (ie: quarantine, etc.).”
"We don’t have a specific magic # that would determine if we would close a school. However, in every COVID-19 positive incident on our campuses, we work in direct coordination with the Florida Dept. of Health - Seminole. We would base any potential school closures per the recommendations from their health professionals to ensure containment. With each incident, we try to have a surgical approach utilizing class seating charts, schedules, etc...so that we can narrow down the amount of individuals that truly need to self-quarantine due to possible exposure per CDC & FL Health Dept. guidelines/recommendations.
“This would be a question for our health department. We base our decisions on their guidance.”