207 school-aged children and 12 school staff in Orange positive for coronavirus in last two weeks

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Orlando Sentinel | by Stephen Hudak & Ryan Gillespie | August 24, 2020

Health officials have identified more than 200 coronavirus cases among school-aged children in Orange County over the past two weeks, and a dozen more positives among employees of the public school system, the top health official in the county said Monday.

It’s unclear how many of the 207 children positive for COVID-19 are public school students, but none have attended classes, which began in Orange on Friday. As a result, no classrooms are under quarantine, said Dr. Raul Pino of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County

Two of the 12 staff members are school bus drivers and officials are still investigating the cases, though it does not appear any students were in danger, Pino said. He said drivers wore masks and they are working to determine if the buses need further cleaning.

“We will track closely anything that happens or that we become aware of in our schools,” said Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, who appeared with Pino at a Monday afternoon briefing and added she expects some level of cases to occur because there is still transmission of the virus across the county. “It’s a matter of how well we manage and track those cases and contact trace those cases.”

Monday was the second day of in-person instruction, where about 69,000 students are attending district schools. The return to school comes as Pino is optimistic about the county’s fight against the highly contagious virus, where 4.3% of tests returned positive Sunday and 5.5% of tests were positive the week of Aug. 16 to Aug. 23, the lowest since the week of June 7.

“It’s safe to say right now, as far as we know, there has not been transmission at schools at this point,” Pino said.

If outbreaks pop up, Pino and his staff will get a hand from a donation valued at more than $100,000 from the National Basketball Association, which is finishing its season inside a so-called “bubble” at Walt Disney World.

The league provided the Orlando community with rapid test kits in exchange for the Health Department’s input about protocols for how it could resume its season at Disney, Pino said.

Pino suggested the league earmark the kits to help find and contain cases in Orange County schools.

“It will not be for massive rapid testing of students, but it will for cases as needed, especially classroom settings to determine who needs to quarantine and who doesn’t,” Pino said.

In addition to the lower infection rate across the county, officials also reported just one death over the weekend.

“One is too many, but it’s also an indication of how the county has recovered to get to this point,” he said. “That is a huge improvement.”

Numbers in neighboring counties are also in decline.

Last week 7.5% of tests in Osceola were positive, down from 10.1% the previous week. On Sunday, 6.8% of tests were positive.

In Seminole, 5.2% of tests were positive last week and 3.6% were on Sunday. While in Lake, 5.9% were positive last week and 4% were positive Sunday.

Orange County will kick off an “eviction diversion” program at 9 a.m. Tuesday for tenants who are at least two months behind on rent.

Both tenant and landlord must be willing to participate and accept the program requirements. Full details are available at ocfl.net/EvictionDiversion.

The Apartment Association of Greater Orlando has provided the county with lists of tenants who are in jeopardy of eviction and landlords willing to try the program.

A landlord could receive up to $4,000 in past due rent and waive any remaining rent owed.

rgillespie@orlandosentinel.com; shudak@orlandosentinel.com