Central Florida school districts struggle to keep up with rising number of COVID cases

Some districts pay overtime to keep up with rising numbers

ORLANDO, Fla. – Growing numbers of children being diagnosed with COVID-19 in Central Florida are putting a strain on the resources used to track them in school.

Orange County Public School leaders said they saw the highest number of new infections this week, with almost 2,000 students and staff quarantined. The Florida Department of Health in Orange County reports 20% of all new coronavirus cases this week were children between the ages of 5 and 14.

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“Let’s reflect a little bit on the fact that a lot of those kids are not eligible to be vaccinated,” Dr. Raul Pino with FDOH said. “So, there is no way that that they can take the shot.”

School leaders said the large number of new cases has resulted in more work behind-the-scenes to verify test results, contact trace and get information to parents.

“It is a much larger workload,” Scott Howat, spokesman for Orange County Public Schools said. “We’re getting a higher volume.”

Howat said that volume has put a strain on the staff responsible for tracking new infections, and he’s not alone.

“Given the volume, we’ve had to assign more people to the task,” Sherri Owens, spokeswoman for Lake County Public Schools said.

Owens added her district has had to reassign secretaries to keep their COVID dashboard up to date.

“We’ve had days, definitely, where the secretaries who’ve been working on this have stayed later than their regular assigned hours,” she said. “So, we have been putting in a lot of effort toward this project.”

News 6 investigated and found out Orange and Lake County school districts were the only districts in Central Florida paying overtime to keep their COVID dashboards current.

Brevard, Osceola and Seminole schools were counting on existing salaried staff members for the task. Marion and Lake County schools took an added step, hiring a COVID Manager to oversee contact tracing and reporting. All of the districts said they were waiting to reimbursed by the state for the extra costs with federal COVID relief money.

Howat said parents first need to pay attention to phone calls home because there could be a lag between when a case is first reported and when it gets posted on the dashboard.

“Answer the phone, make sure you’re talking to the contact tracer, so we can make sure we’re getting them taken care of and getting that data up on the dashboard as well,” he said.

Howat said the district was also working on tracking new COVID cases by age within the district in order to watch for trends.

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.