Orange County schools medical advisory board voices concerns about UK variant

District confirms more than 4,000 COVID-19 cases since school year began

The Orange County Public Schools Medical Advisory Committee met on Thursday to discuss COVID-19 and safety measures on campus.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County Public Schools Medical Advisory Committee met on Thursday to discuss COVID-19 and safety measures on campus.

The board discussed several topics, including concerns over how long it takes for the health department to conduct contact tracing.

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“It’s taking so long now to do the contact tracing in some cases that by the time we’re notifying students or teachers, their quarantine is almost up,” OCPS Chairwoman Teresa Jacobs said.

Medical advisory committee member Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi echoed similar worries.

“Especially with this new variant and the speed with which it is able to move, we need to also move quickly before we end up with another Europe situation on our hands,” Ajayi said.

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of Thursday, there have been 4,094 confirmed cases since the school year began.

Board member Dr. Michael Muszynski said he’s worried there could be a rise in cases because of the new variant.

“It’s going to be ramping up predictably and also epidemiologists are predicting this,” Muszynski said.

To help stop the spread, the board said quarantine notifications need to go out faster.

Ajayi suggested once a positive case is confirmed in a classroom, school leaders should check the seating chart and determine who could have been exposed. School leaders can then ask those students to quarantine while the health department contact traces.

“We need you to look at people who are three feet from this person and assume that is your risk group. Have these ones go home, or four feet whatever it is, and then if the epidemiologists want to they can cut, say, ‘You know what? Those didn’t need to go home, pull them back in’ or if the epidemiologist thinks we should have gone wider, then they can widen the circle, but we can at least begin to do something,” Ajayi said.

The board also got an update from Harold Border, the chief of high schools, on the district’s plans for spring sports and tentative senior events, including prom, graduation and Grad Bash at Universal Orlando.

“All 20 of our high schools do not have confirmed dates and the latest from Universal yesterday was that they hope to be able to let me know if they can host all 20 of our schools by the end of next week,” Border said.

As for sports, Border said they will continue to follow safety guidelines and protocols like they did in the fall and winter, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“We also feel that our schools did an incredible job with fall and winter sports to make it successful for our student-athletes, parents and community at large,” Border said.

But testing athletes may not happen in the spring. Border said it is all dependent on funding.

The district also announced it is planning for in-person graduation ceremonies.

“We do have dates secured for all of our traditional high schools at the Amway and UCF,” Border said.

But members of the committee raised concerns over spring sports and senior events, especially with the new variant found in Central Florida.

“If we can’t test as well, then I think we should be even more stringent in trying to maintain the guidelines that we did before because at the end of the day social distancing, masks and handwashing and cohorting will give us the best chance of control and (stopping) spread,” Ajayi said.

The board also voted to send the state a letter in support of teachers and school employees being prioritized to get the COVID-19 vaccine.