HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of teachers are out sick as COVID-19 cases surge in Tampa Bay.
Some local school districts are finding new ways to help students and staff get tested for the virus.
Addison Davis, the Superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools addressed the teacher vacancies Wednesday.
“We opened up our school today with over 1,000 instructional absences. We know that is a number that truly impacts children,” he explained.
In Hillsborough County alone, 600 teachers called out sick Wednesday morning. That’s on top of 400 vacant teacher positions in the district. The district isn’t sure how many of the call-outs were for COVID-19 because of privacy issues, but did say that’s higher than usual, but still nowhere near the peak of teacher vacancies during the Delta wave.
Hillsborough County expects to see about 2,500 call-outs this week compared to 5,000 during the COVID-19 delta peak in the Tampa Bay area.
In Pinellas County, the teacher’s union tells ABC Action News 500 teachers called out of work Wednesday morning. The normal amount is 300-400.
The call-outs are forcing districts to shuffle staff and call in substitutes, as they work to recruit more employees.
“Facing the impact with COVID, the new variant and coupling that on top of the vacancies, we’re doing everything we can,” Davis elaborated.
Kimberly Pate is a Pinellas County school teacher. She spent Wednesday morning waiting to get tested for COVID-19 after one of her children tested positive for the virus.
“It is a little bit scary especially just knowing how fast this is spreading,” she said while waiting for results.
Pate was taking advantage of a COVID-19 test site specifically set up for students and staff. The Pinellas County School District partnered with Evara Health in Clearwater at 14100 58th Street N to help students and staff avoid long lines at the city and county testing sites.
Pate ended up testing negative.
“It is a relief and I’m glad I can go back to my classroom and don’t have to have a substitute and can still continue to teach,” she added.
Teachers and students just need to show their school ID to get tested at the drive-up site which is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
ABC Action News checked around and found out Manatee County is also offering a test site specifically for students and district staff at Marble Park in Bradenton from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In Pasco County, staff members are able to get tested at the district office in Land ‘O Lakes. On Monday, 800 staff members were tested.
Nichelle Threadgill of Evara Health says the Pinellas County site has been busy.
“With school starting yesterday we expected we would see a large turnout but we’re seeing very large volumes and it’s more than we would have estimated,” she explained.
Threadgill says it’s important to note that if someone does an at-home test and it is positive, they do not need to do a secondary test at a site. Instead, they should stay home and quarantine.
“The demand has increased significantly. There are fewer testing centers than there were in early 2020 so we encourage everyone to be patient, test if necessary. If you have symptoms, stay home and isolate is the recommendation,” Threadgill added.
Hillsborough County does not have a specific site for students to get tested, but the district is working to secure more rapid tests to send to schools. The district also has a partnership with TGH for staff members to get tested.
Dr. Allison Messina, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, encourages students who are eligible to get a COVID vaccine. She also recommends a flu vaccine.
"So the things that you can help do to protect your student in school is to encourage mask-wearing when they’re inside, to get them vaccinated if they’re eligible and to get them boosted if they’re eligible," said Dr. Allison Messina.