ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Researchers predict omicron variant of the coronavirus is on the verge of peaking, but the virus continues to spread.
It is part of the reason Orange County Public Schools has a staff shortage.
“Absentee rates are up amongst students and staff, a lot of that has to do with [COVID-19], a lot of that has to do with other illnesses,” chief communications officer Scott Howat said.
OCPS reports 770 teachers were listed absent as of Monday and the district COVID-19 dashboard shows 183 confirmed cases amongst employees.
Howat said they are filling gaps from absences with substitute teachers. However, when they do not have enough substitutes to stand in for teachers they resort to other measures.
“In cases where we don’t, we’re actually overfilling with either support professionals that are going into the classroom to fill those gaps or some of the other stuff that’s on a campus,” he said.
OCPS staff that test positive for the virus are required to sit out for five days.
If the staff member is vaccinated and has improving symptoms they are allowed to return to work with a mask.
The unvaccinated must sit out for 10 days.
Even with dozens of staff out, the district reports it has not reached dangerously low levels of staff.
“We certainly have concerns about [COVID-19] and about the spread of [COVID-19,]” Howat said.
He said considering the total number of employees and students in the district, the positivity rate is relatively low.
He acknowledges parents’ concerns about the virus but encourages families to send kids to school if possible.
“It is a safe place, it is a safe environment it’s as safe as we can make it,” he said.
Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi is a pediatrician specializing in pediatric pulmonology. He also serves on the Orange County Public Schools Medical Advisory task force.
He echoes Howat’s sentiments.
“I’ve literally told everyone to come back to school, just wear your mask, wash your hands, just make your child do what they need to,” Dr. Ajayi said.