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As Florida continues to grapple with COVID-19, schools are keeping thousands of students home on a daily basis to avoid potential outbreaks even though most of those kids end up testing negative for the disease.
One potential solution under consideration: more COVID testing at schools.
Dr. Alina Alonso, the state health department director for Palm Beach County, said health officials are in preliminary talks to increase testing capacity at schools. Aside from getting vaccinated, she said, that would be a key to maintaining a more regular schooling experience.
“The biggest problem right now is how many children we’re having to quarantine on a daily basis,” Alonso said. About 16% of the children quarantined are found to be infected with COVID, she said.
The means the vast majority of students are sent home simply as a precaution for possible exposure. Identifying infected children sooner might limit the number of children they come into contact with.
Palm Beach and Broward counties each had over 1,800 students on stay-home orders on Monday. Palm Beach County schools reported 181 new COVID-19 cases, while Broward reported 15. Miami-Dade schools did not respond to a request for case counts.
School nurses in Broward and Palm Beach counties can perform COVID-19 rapid tests but only to students with symptoms. Unvaccinated students who have direct exposure to someone who tested positive are required to stay at home until they have a negative test, show no symptoms and have no direct contact for at last four days with someone who tested positive.
Vaccinated students can immediately return to school if they have no symptoms.
Palm Beach and Broward are among 13 Florida counties that have bucked Gov. Ron DeSantis and required masks in schools, sparking vehement anger from some parents who oppose mask orders. Alonso said the mandates have been effective and “most of the positivity is coming from the home: the birthday parties, the outside activities the families are having outside of school.”
The two school districts both have free testing sites dedicated solely for students and educators at Chuck Shaw Technical Education Center in West Palm Beach, West Technical Education Center in Belle Glade, Plantation Heritage Park, South Regional Health Center in Hollywood and the Paul Hughes Health Center in Pompano Beach.
Alonso believes allocating more testing resources toward the schools would be a “win-win for everybody and keep more kids in school without having to send them home.”