Florida Schools Opening Amidst Worst Week since Pandemic’s Start

Last year, when states and the federal government both failed to set up any reporting infrastructure about COVID-19 cases in schools in the United States, I teamed up with FinMango and Google to do it ourselves.

The Covid Monitor became the national tracking database for COVID-19 nation-wide in schools quickly, with valuable collaborations with groups like Johns Hopkins and The Washington Post to deliver data to parents and communities that was being kept from them by leaders across the country.

Our project put pressure on districts and states to start reporting, and before the end of the 2020-2021 school year, most states reported some kind of data about cases in their schools.

Here in Florida, concerned parents and school staff made so much noise about the state’s failure to report accurate data about COVID-19 in classrooms that the Public Health Accreditation Board, which certifies public health agencies in the United States, threatened to strip the Florida Department of Health for their failure to report schools data accurately, transparently and in a timely manner.

The findings represented not just a major victory for my own fight for data access and transparency, but for parents and school personnel statewide.

But the state decided to stop reporting cases in schools weeks before school actually ended in Florida, triggering yet another investigation into DOH’s practices that remains ongoing. With the final report – when corrected for the under-reporting of staff that was consistent throughout the year – Florida recorded more than 125,000 student and staff cases. That doesn’t include those who caught it at home from someone who caught it from school, and those that caught it from them, and so on.

The costs were nearly immeasurable. Studies across the countries decried the reopening of schools across the country during the pandemic, finding that more than 43,000 people contracted the virus and nearly 1,000 people died  from it in Texas  that would not have had schools remained virtual or proper precautions taken. The per-capita rate of infection in schools in Texas was much lower than Florida’s, though the state prohibited researchers from accessing the data to do a similar study.

Now with the Governor banning masks and vaccination requirements ion schools, even though multiple vaccines are required for public school attendance outside of COVID-19, and variants that make children sicker than before are spreading like wildfire throughout the state, the outlook for schools seems much grimmer than before.

I’ve published a map and data set for all data reported by the state for last school year. Please keep in mind that the state under-reported staff cases by more than 5,000 compared to data provided independently from the school districts themselves.

You can use the map or the table to find any school in the state and see how many cases were reported in each school from the end of September 2020 – mid-May of 2021. DOH did not included cases from August 2020 or late May/June 2021, and did not provide a justification for omitting those figures.

Click here to view the dashboard.

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