MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As COVID infections rise, critics say Florida is underreporting new cases among school-aged children.
New information has surfaced on the lack of statewide testing requirements for students in our state.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly pushed for face-to-face learning.
“The risk level to school kids, it’s very low,” he said on July 10.
In addition to that, his administration, citing an emergency order, pressured some school districts, including Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Broward, to reopen early.
“This is extortion by the Department of Education,” said Patricia Good, a Broward County School Board member.
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Two-and-a-half months since some schools began to reopen, state data shows a 56% increase in COVID-19 cases in school-aged children.
“Absolutely, there is an underreporting of cases in the state of Florida,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University.
How? At least 13 districts in the state, making up nearly 50% of all public school students, say they don’t require children who are quarantined due to exposure to COVID to present a negative test before returning to in-person learning.
“If you do not test the close contacts of the individuals that tested positive in the school, you are missing cases. You are underreporting,” said Dr. Marty.
And potentially exposing teachers to a deadly virus, says Christina Finn.
The science teacher is working from home for Hillsborough County, a district that doesn’t require quarantined students to present a negative test.
“I think it’s wrong,” she said.
Christina used to run half-marathons.
Now, since getting COVID four months ago, she’s out of breath just walking her dog. She has heart, lung and kidney issues. No taste. No smell. Her hair fell out in clumps. So much so, she had to cut it short.
“If I get COVID again, I may not come back,” she said with tears.
Of Florida’s five largest school districts, Broward is the only one requiring quarantined students who show symptoms to present a negative test before returning to face-to-face learning.
“Testing has to be part of that equation,” said Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Runcie said the state pressured, or as one school board member put it “extorted,” Broward with threats of losing state aid into reopening early after the school board had already voted to continue with distance learning.
“If you go and open too early, you’re going to see a spike in cases,” Runcie said.
While Gov. DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment, his stance has been that “you do not quarantine healthy people who have been exposed.”
A portion of his recent remarks were played to Dr. Marty.
She says if a leader doesn’t have the complete data to make decisions about public health in the state, “the result is that you may make the wrong decisions.”
And during a pandemic, wrong decisions can lead to more death.