POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Now that quarantining is optional for students exposed to COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, parents are worried this will further spread the virus in schools.
“It’s sad, I don’t know how many more kids have to get sick for this to end,” said Kacey Garcia.
Garcia decided to pull her kindergartner out of in-person learning after she had been quarantined twice within the first weeks of school.
“After the second quarantine, I just said ‘wow.’ I'm not comfortable sending my child, my little baby. She’s five years old, back to school with this. The anxiety and the fear that I felt, I was not comfortable at all,” Garcia said.
Her daughter is a student in the Polk County Public School District. There have been 19,185 students quarantined in Polk County so far this year.
Now quarantining is optional for students exposed to COVID-19 and are asymptomatic. The Florida Department of Health issued a new rule stating parents can choose to allow their children who have been exposed to COVID-19 to remain in school — as long as they don’t have symptoms. They can also choose to quarantine their student for up to seven days.
The rule cites concerns over large numbers of students being quarantined. Garcia believes if masks were mandatory fewer students would be out of class.
“My daughter always wore a mask, there was no issue there and I feel like adding this new policy is going to make things much, much worse,” she said.
Parents aren't the only ones worried.
“Our office, even the school district’s office started exploding with phone calls after this announcement with people very concerned,” said Stephanie Yocum, the President of Polk Education Association.
Yocum said this has heightened the fear among teachers and staff who were already apprehensive about being exposed to the virus.
“We're talking about some other mitigation factors we potentially used last year. You know a temperature check, maybe targeting symptom checkers,” said Yocum.
Doctors said it's too soon to make changes to quarantine protocols when younger kids still aren’t able to get vaccinated.
“If soon enough we can get the kids vaccinated we can make those choices and we can have better chances of getting out of this pandemic,” said Dr. Beatriz Sankey, Pediatrician with Children’s Medical Center.
Dr. Sankey said parents should seek advice from their doctor when making a decision.