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Tampa Bay area school districts use command centers, COVID-19 captains to fight spread of coronavirus

Posted at 5:39 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 18:01:49-04

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Some Tampa Bay area students are back in class while others will return in just a matter of days for the new school semester. Local school districts are taking new steps to help slow the spread of coronavirus in schools and keep students and teachers safe.

Kevin Chapman, the Manatee County School District’s Director of Strategic Planning and District Initiatives, also manages the new District Operations Center (DOC).

“It’s built to be like any good operations center, something where you can all make decisions and all see each other kind of in a bullpen type setting,” said Chapman.

The DOC is located in the School Support Center. It’s made up of communications, safety and security, and nursing staff, as well as two officials from the local health department: an epidemiologist and the department's school nurse program director.

All communication on possible COVID-19 cases, exposure, or questions from principals or staff come to them. While it’s staffed during business hours, Chapman says it’s essentially a 24-hour operation.

“We can do all the contact tracing here," said Chapman. "We can do all the communication with our school nurses and really make those decisions and gather that data right here at a central location.”


Other local school districts have new measures in place as well. Hillsborough County Public Schools’ re-opening plan laid out a reporting chain with a “COVID Commander,” who will help drive contact tracing.

Pinellas County Schools detailed how the PCS COVID-19 Team will collaborate with school and district administrators to gather information to give to the local health department, who can start contact tracing and decide who may need to isolate.

“Those of us who are here in this center are really working hard to make sure that we continue to have great school days ahead and making sure that we keep everybody safe,” said Chapman.

Manatee County students returned to class Monday. School starts for Pinellas and Hillsborough County students on Monday, August 24.