By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A veteran Miami-Dade public schools teacher is speaking out as coronavirus cases continue to rise as expected.

Seth Patterson has taught for 18 years and instructs some 300 students as a music teacher for the 2nd through 5th grades at Whispering Pines Elementary School in Cutler Bay.

He says one of the biggest challenges is making sure students wear masks at all times while maintaining a social distance. Students returned to classes at their elementary schools two weeks ago.

The 44-year-old Patterson spoke with CBS4’s Peter D’Oench after an 80 percent increase in Coronavirus cases between Friday and Monday at Miami-Dade schools. The school system’s dashboard shows cases involving 54 employees and 36 students at 59 of the county’s 392 schools.

While there are no reported cases so far at Whispering Pines Elementary, Patterson, who is married and has two children, said he is very concerned about everyone’s safety.

He said, “I have 4 to 28 students per class. Fortunately, I have a big room so we are able to spread out the chairs enough so we can accommodate everyone. It is a big challenge. I think the biggest challenge is the students themselves. They are children and when you think about it they don’t understand social distancing. They often pile up on each other and you have to let them know, spread out, spread out.”

He said, “For example, it is hard for them to understand that they can’t just jump up at lunch without their mask on and go back to the cafeteria line.”

Dr. Marcos Mestre, the Senior Medical Director of Pediatric Services at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, said those are huge concerns.

“The only thing I harp on to parents is to make sure that children are wearing masks as frequently as possible all the time unless they are eating and that’s where the greatest danger are is when a child is eating and if they are within 6 feet of an individual that is going to be the greatest risk. At door, dining is actually preferred if possible. It helps out with ventilation and the risk of transmission is less.”

“The schools are doing an excellent job in producing the safest environment to go back to,” said Mestre. “It’s not so much they are contracting the virus in school. They are contracting the virus out of school through activities they may be doing with their families or friends.”

Patterson said “The common enemy is the virus and how we are going to get over this. It’s been incredibly stressful for me personally. I know that I do what I have to do. I am worried about my health and I am worried about my wife’s health as she has a pre-existing condition so if I were to be home with the virus I could infect her. I am also worried about my children so it’s not just me it’s everyone around you. You may not have the symptoms but you could give it to someone.”

The stress also went up when schools pivoted to online learning.

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“I barely slept that first weekend because I was manually inputting all my students one at a time into a computer program and I was making sure I had lessons ready because students show up whether you are ready or not. It created a lot of sleepless nights for me and my colleagues.”

“The only good thing that’s come out of this pandemic is that it’s forced education to step forward into the 21st century,” he said. “I am no longer using textbooks for example. I have a fully integrated program with songs and activities that operate out of a web browser.”

Patterson is hopeful.

“I am confident that with the right leadership the vaccine will be developed and we’ll get over this and we’ll return back to our educational normal. I hope there’s a new normal where we have more washing of hands and more hand sanitizing because that will make us more healthy as a community,” he said.

“I have been doing my best,” he said. “I would say that I have been there for all of my students and all of our teachers have been calling and trying our best to reach out to them to that we are working together to get through this. Certainly, it’s one of the biggest challenges I have faced certainly.”

There are currently 90 confirmed cases, according to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools coronavirus dashboard.

Students are now in their third week of in-class learning and there 54 employees and 36 students who have contracted coronavirus, according to the dashboard.

In Broward County, the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows there have been 61 total cases in the last 30 days, impacting 46 sites.

Peter D'Oench

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