Treasure Coast schools see uptick in COVID-19 cases; officials attribute to community spread

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TC Palm | by Sommer Brugal | November 24, 2020

COVID-19 cases are up in Treasure Coast schools since the start of the second quarter of the year compared to the first, records show. 

Indian River County schools saw the largest increase, with 63 cases reported as of Tuesday, compared to 37 cases in the first quarter. In Martin County, 64 cases have been reported so far in the second quarter, up from 50, and in St. Lucie County, officials reported 76 cases, an increase of four. 

The reported cases so far in the second quarter also represent more than 50% of the districts’ total positive cases across the three-county area, records show. 

In Indian River, 63% of all cases since August have occurred in the second quarter. In Martin County, it’s about 56% and about 51% in St. Lucie County. 

Thousands of students began the year enrolled in remote learning because of the pandemic, but many returned for the start of the second grading period. 

In Martin County, nearly 73% of students are now attending classes in person, up from about 62% at the start of the year. In St. Lucie, about 56% are in schools, compared to just under 50% in August, and about 75% of students in Indian River are attending classes at school, up from about 60%. 

Still, “even with kids coming back, the spread that’s affecting (our schools) is still predominantly coming from the community,” Martin County district spokesperson Jennifer DeShazo said. 

On Monday, 135 new cases were reported across the region — 68 in St. Lucie, 46 in Indian River and 21 in Martin County, according to the Florida Department of Health. 

The coronavirus increases in schools and communities is especially concerning with Thanksgiving and other holidays, said Scott Bass, Indian River County schools deputy superintendent. 

“We’re definitely weary,” he said. The district saw an increase in cases after Halloween, which coincided with a four-day weekend.

“I’m not saying we’re doing better than parents at home,” he said, “but (outside of school), you have opportunities for kids to be doing things other than a regimented schedule officials can monitor.” 

That’s why school districts are encouraging families to follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines during the Thanksgiving-week holiday, and are urging families to keep children home after the break if they’re exhibiting any symptoms. 

Though it’s too soon to tell how recent increases will impact learning options for the second semester, districts already have given families enrollment options for January and schools are preparing for more students to return. 

“We are happy that many families are comfortable sending their children to school. It shows they feel a level of comfort with our safety measures,” DeShazo said. “But at the same time, it requires everyone to do their part, not only at school, but at home, too.” 

Photo: The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s office, teachers, school district officials and community members welcome students on the first day of school with signs, smiles and support at Lakewood Park Elementary on Monday, August 24, 2020, in St. Lucie County. The effort was a modified version of the school’s annual Tunnel of Hope event. “It’s different because normally they’re inside in the hallways and this year, for safety and social distancing, it is outside,” said Lydia Martin, the St. Lucie County schools chief communications director. “We want the kids to feel the excitement and that we’re happy to have them back, just like we do every year.”