Public schools in South Florida have confirmed more than 300 COVID-19 cases among employees and students since schools reopened several weeks ago for in-person learning. And at least 1,000 students in Miami-Dade are believed to be in quarantine, according to the district’s teacher union.
Within days of reopening, two Miami-Dade County public schools were forced to close for a day and pivot online after officials received reports of positive cases and ordered the buildings closed for a deep cleaning. Other schools that confirmed positive cases later on were allowed to stay open, raising questions about how school COVID-19 closures work.
Other questions that have left families and staff confused: How do officials decide if only a few people or an entire class needs to quarantine? How long are students and employees expected to stay home if they have no symptoms? And can the siblings of a student exposed to COVID-19 go to school or do they also need to stay home?
Here’s what Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties public school districts say:
How do South Florida schools decide who needs to quarantine?
Miami-Dade County Public Schools published an online FAQ guide after the School Board asked the district to provide clarity on its quarantine methods. Broward and Monroe’s public school districts also have guides online.
Regardless of which Miami-Dade, Broward or Monroe public school the student or employee attends, the quarantine period is usually at least 14 days.
So, how does quarantining work?
Once the school is notified that a student or employee has tested positive for COVID-19, officials will identify and contact those who were in close contact with the person. The district, working with the Florida Department of Health, would determine this by reviewing the student or employee’s schedule, whether they rode the bus or participated in extracurricular activities, including sports.
Once the information is collected, officials would contact those who need to quarantine or self-isolate. Families would then be notified that someone in the school tested positive.
What about in Broward and Monroe public schools?
Once Broward Schools is notified that someone tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the school’s principal will contact those who may have had direct exposure to the person and ask them to monitor for symptoms, consult with their healthcare provider and get tested.
Broward Schools did not provide specifics about its quarantine procedures and said it was determined by the Florida Department of Health. In a statement, the Florida Department of Health in Broward County said it collaborates with the school district to do contact tracing and mitigation strategies “in the manner determined by the local school districts” to help make school as safe as possible but also did not provide any specifics.
Monroe County Public Schools also relies on the health department to determine who needs to quarantine and for how long. In general, people told to quarantine are those who were less than six feet away from the person who tested positive for at least 15 minutes, according to the district’s online COVID-19 guide.
The school district, however, is tasked with tracking students and staff members who have been ordered to quarantine to make sure they don’t enter the school’s buildings until their quarantine orders are over, said Becky Herrin, a spokeswoman for the Monroe County School District.
All three school districts say that additional cleanings would be conducted in the areas where the infected person was at. Students will also be transitioned to online learning during the quarantine period.
My child was asked to quarantine and I also work at a district school. Do I also have to stay home? What about siblings and other family members?
It depends on whether your child is experiencing possible COVID-19 symptoms and if anyone else in the family had direct contact with someone who was ill with COVID-19.
Here’s a scenario:
A student was in direct contact with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19. The student is told to quarantine and is not experiencing any potential symptoms, such as fever, coughing or a runny nose. In this situation, the student’s family does not need to quarantine or isolate because they themselves were not in direct contact with the ill person, according to Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
This means the student’s siblings who go to school for in-person learning and family members who work at a district school, including teachers, do not need to stay home. However, if the quarantined student tests positive for the disease or begins to experience potential symptoms, then the rest of the family should contact their medical provider to get tested, the district said.
The same rules would likely apply if the person quarantined for exposure was an employee.
What about in Broward and Monroe?
Broward County Public Schools redirected the Miami Herald to a section in its frequently asked questions guide which discusses what a family should do if they have a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case. None of the questions in the guide addresses whether a student can attend in-person learning if their sibling, who does not have symptoms, is quarantined for direct COVID-19 exposure.
The Florida Department of Health in Broward County also did not answer the question in its emailed statement.
It’s also unclear what the rule is for siblings who attend public schools in the Florida Keys. Monroe County’s “What If” COVID-19 Scenarios online guide states that the family should follow the guidance of the health department and that “each case should be addressed individually and carefully.”
If a Broward or Monroe student tests positive or begins exhibiting symptoms, then their siblings and other family members who were in direct contact with them must also follow the health department’s quarantine guidance. Monroe’s school district says the health department will notify families if they need to be tested.
Someone in class tested positive. Will the classroom be quarantined and will the school close for a cleaning?
The decision to quarantine classrooms or close the entire school for a deep cleaning will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Miami-Dade County Public Schools said.
Some of the factors that can influence the decision to close a school or quarantine multiple classrooms include the number of confirmed cases among students and staff, how many people were potentially exposed to the disease and if there is a potential outbreak, the district said. Officials will also consider if they can notify everyone who was in contact with the infected person and sanitize the school before the next school day.
Broward Schools said it doesn’t “anticipate having to close a school for emergency cleaning” because of its current cleaning procedures, staffing and third-party resources. COVID-19 closures would be determined by when the district is notified of a COVID-19 case and if “there is sufficient time to perform an emergency cleaning prior to the next day of school,” the district said in an email.
Broward’s school district, like Monroe’s, said that the decision to quarantine classrooms or an entire school because of COVID-19 would be made in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health.
How long do students and employees need to stay in quarantine?
Here’s the timeline for Miami-Dade County Public Schools:
▪ Stay home for at least 10 days if you are a student with COVID-19 symptoms who was not known to have been exposed to COVID-19 or are an employee who tested positive. If you match one of these scenarios, you must also be fever free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medications and show signs that your symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, have improved.
Employees will also be required to submit a doctor’s note clearing them to return to work. Students are also required to submit a doctor’s note clearing them to return to school if they do not show signs of symptoms improvement.
▪ Students who test positive for COVID-19 must wait for the Florida Department of Health to notify the District School Health Office that the student can return to campus. The district will then notify the school’s principal who will then notify the family.
▪ Employees and students who were in direct contact with someone who tested positive must quarantine for 14 days. If they begin to show potential COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath, their quarantine will be extended for at least 10 additional days.
▪ Students who are ill but do not have COVID-19 related symptoms must stay home until they are symptom free without the use of medication for 24 hours.
Here’s the timeline for Broward County Public Schools:
▪ At least 14 days in quarantine for students who test positive for the disease, anyone (students and employees) who were directly exposed to someone who tested positive, and any student who is living with someone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
Students living with someone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 must also provide proof of two negative test results and be fever and symptom free before returning to school.
▪ The district does not state in its online FAQ how long employees are expected to quarantine and states that the Florida Department of Health will determine the length of quarantine. The district does say that anyone, regardless if they are a student or an employee, will need to undergo a COVID-19 test again once they stop showing symptoms.
Once the individual and his or her family members receive negative results, the student and employee can return to campus once their quarantine/isolation period is over.
Here’s the timeline for Monroe County Public Schools:
▪ Anyone who was exposed to COVID-19 is required to stay home for 14 days, regardless if you have symptoms or received a negative test.
▪ Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for at least 14 days, including from the rest of your family.
▪ Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms who receive a negative test must quarantine until you get medical clearance to be around others.
▪ Anyone who is sick with non-COVID related symptoms, must stay home until they are feeling better. If you match this scenario, you must not have diarrhea or vomiting for at least 24 hours if it is the only symptom.
Miami Herald staff writer Gwen Filosa contributed to this report.