TAMPA, Fla. — Doctors are keeping a close eye on a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Over the last two to three weeks we’ve seen an increase in people being hospitalized because of COVID,” said Dr. Jason Wilson, the Associate Medical Director for the Tampa General Hospital Emergency Department.
He says 90% of those folks are not vaccinated, which is an indication the vaccine continues to work.
“When the vaccines were studied, they were studied to ensure patients were not hospitalized after they got COVID, to make sure patients were not getting very sick or even dying from COVID. So far, that data has held true even in the face of the Delta variant,” he said.
Nearly every Tampa Bay area school district starts back up on August 10 except Pinellas County, which goes back on the 11. But, as parents focus on back-to-school supplies they also may consider a few new masks too. The American Academy of Pediatrics released new COVID-19 guidance Monday and it says anyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask in school, regardless of their vaccination status.
“I think culturally we have moved to a place in this country or at least in this community where if people need to wear a mask that’s OK,” Dr. Wilson said.
Based on data, Dr. Wilson says kids are less likely to go to the hospital for COVID.
“If you look at the numbers overall for COVID, there was less COVID in that group,” Dr. Wilson said, about kids under the age of 12. “Even without a vaccine, there was less illness and hospitalization.”
But he says kids 12 and up are also able to get the Pfizer vaccine and that’s something he highly suggests.
Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota Counties all say masks are “optional” although some districts are encouraging the unvaccinated wear them. Several counties say they are implementing social distancing, but Sarasota County said it can’t be guaranteed.
“There’s no not wear a mask mandate either. Right? So I think we’re going to get to a space where it probably makes some sense to start considering mask wearing if you have concerns at the house,” Dr. Wilson said.
Dr. Wilson says those who are vaccinated are way less likely to get COVID in general and if it does happen, most people will be symptom free. if you do develop symptoms, they’ll be similar to a cold plus if you’re vaccinated you are way less likely to spread COVID to someone else if you catch it.
“The less the viral load the less likely spread,” said Dr. Wilson. “The more antibody or vaccine the less my viral load is likely to be at any given time.”
But he says if we want to move on with normal life we must get more people vaccinated. Right now we sit just under the 50% mark in Florida.
“We’re gonna have to move that number to 75% or we’re gonna be sitting here talking about variants next year too, Heather,” Dr. Wilson said.
Full responses from school districts are below:
The Health Department determines who might have to quarantine. Naturally, if they make that call then the kids would not be able to come to school. We would handle it the same way we have handled outbreaks of other kinds in the past – anything from a kind of virus to head lice.
Though we have no plans to continue with our online option (mySchool Online), we have strategies to keep kids engaged when they are quarantined. For instance, when a teacher and the class are quarantined, we have had some success with having the teacher conduct class remotely. That, of course, is contingent on the teacher not being sick, etc.
Masks are optional.
Our district has an optional face mask policy. It was just approved by the School Board at their last meeting (July 13th).
Our traditional public schools will use the new optional face mask policy that was approved by the School Board. We are still being advised by the local Department of Health to implement social distancing when possible. Social distancing cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on the numbers of students and staff in any location at a given time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently provided updated guidance for K-12 school operations. The CDC stressed the importance of in-person instruction and supported school districts addressing their needs at the local level. We continue to work closely with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County to review and update our safety measures; enhanced cleaning, social distancing and contact tracing will remain important tools. Face coverings will be optional for students and staff members for the 2021-22 school year, but we encourages anyone who is not vaccinated to wear face coverings.
We are in continual contact with our health partners regarding the impact COVID-19 is having on our community, and will continue to do so prior to the start of the academic year. At this time, face coverings remain optional.
We will continue COVID-19 protocols at the start of the new academic year including practicing social distancing, providing PPE for use including sanitation stations in all classrooms, and directional signage in hallways for controlled movement. Each school will continue to have a COVID Lead as well, which is a staff member dedicated to guiding our protocols including contact tracing and quarantines.
At this time, the mask/face covering policy is optional for students, staff and visitors but strongly encouraged and recommended indoors. Any change to the policy would require action by the School Board.
Other layered mitigation strategies/safety protocols used during the 2020-2021 school year remain the same such as enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols in classrooms and common areas, social distancing to the greatest extent possible, hand sanitizers in classrooms, and upgraded ventilation/air filtration systems established last fall. We also encourage (not mandate) everyone eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The district continues to work closely with its group of medical experts and DOH-Pinellas reviewing safety protocols and recommending adjustments if and when needed.
On May 28, 2021, the School Board of Manatee County voted to repeal the portion of Board Policy 8450 that mandated employees, students and visitors to wear face masks in district facilities, at school district events and in school district vehicles. Face masks are now optional across the school district.