Duval Schools reports more COVID-19 cases in first 9 days of 3rd quarter than the first 2 months of school combined

·4 min read
Students and parents walk toward Loretto Elementary School on the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year.
Students and parents walk toward Loretto Elementary School on the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year.

In the nine days Duval Schools students have been back in school, the district has reported more cases of COVID-19 than it did in the first two months of the 2021-22 school year combined.

Tuesday evening, the district reported 529 new cases — an all-time high for new cases reported within a 24 hour period. It's worth noting that a bump in reported cases after a holiday break is to be expected. Still, an increase in new cases this high hasn't occurred all school year.

In fact, data shows that so far this month, the district has reported more COVID-19 cases than it did between all of September through December combined.

After a spike in August, with 1,600 reported cases, the district noted a total of about 1,500 cases between September and December. This month, the district has reported over 2,800 new cases. As of Wednesday, the district has reported a cumulative total of 6,007 cases this school year.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 has been popularly described as a milder variant, but data shows children are being hospitalized at higher rates than before. The disease can still be deadly and poses a larger threat to those who are not vaccinated.

More: Duval health department suspends school contact tracing, DCPS changes protocol

Record-breaking: Omicron hits Duval Schools hard with surging cases, staff shortages

What's the plan?: Masked adults, canceled field trips and more: How Duval Schools is handling omicron after winter break

Among the schools with the highest number of COVID-19 cases this school year include:

  • Baldwin Middle-High: 148 cumulative, 24 cases this week

  • Mandarin High: 134 cumulative, 10 cases this week

  • Atlantic Coast High: 130, no cases this week

  • Mandarin Middle: 104, 11 cases this week

The jump also comes as the Duval County Health Department brings contact tracing at schools to a halt. The district announced right before the long weekend that contact tracing — which helped enforce quarantine periods for students and faculty that tested positive as well as people who were exposed — would no longer take place.

As previously reported by the Times-Union, the spike in positive cases and, in turn, absences, combined with already existing teacher vacancies and substitute shortages have prompted an unprecedented gap in adults around to supervise students.

On private social media channels, Jacksonville teachers have discussed their students being sent to school fields, gymnasiums and auditoriums to help compensate for the lack of adults able to supervise.

Monique Sampson is a Duval Schools history teacher who is out sick with COVID-19 this week. She's also an expectant mother.

"Even when I do take days off for maternity appointments I’m unable to get subs most of the time. That’s how bad the shortage is," she said. "Now that I’m out with COVID-19, I’m stuck at home with a fever and chills while worrying about my students who are without a sub during my absence. The fact is the schools are open but the kids aren’t learning."

Policies pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration do not allow the district to pivot to virtual learning as they did in 2020 when cases increased or put a mask mandate in place, which health experts say could help slow the spread of the virus which has not yet peaked.

Omicron is not that mild: 50,000 to 300,000 more US deaths projected by March: COVID-19 updates

According to a partially fulfilled public records request from Duval Schools the district observed 650 instructional personnel absences on Jan. 11 — the first day of the third quarter — plus an additional 358 instructional vacancies. The district requested 3,017 substitutes that day but only received 1,767.

The shortages have prompted school district personnel and Superintendent Diana Greene to fill in as needed. Last week, one district spokesperson said they filled in as an ESE paraprofessional.

"Before the pandemic, [the district] didn’t have enough teachers," Sampson said. "During the pandemic, the vacancies and amount of teachers out weekly due to COVID has resulted in kids not having classroom teachers for at least one period a day- maybe even more than one at times. The situation is dire and with little to no mitigation strategies I believe we are in for a rough spring."

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her. Sign up for her newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: COVID-19 cases at Duval Schools soar this semester compared to last

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting