PASCO COUNTY, FL — In reaction to the resurgence in positive coronavirus cases, the Pasco County School District will exclude spectators from all school sporting events and drama performances.
Starting Monday, sports and theatrical productions will be restricted to participating students and coaches.
Superintendent Kurt Browning made the announcement in a Facebook video Friday in response to Pasco County's coronavirus positivity rate of 9 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says counties should tighten restrictions when the positivity rate raises above 5 percent.
That's the parameter Browning is using before he will lift the ban on spectators. He said it will not be lifted until the county's positivity rate drops below 5 percent for a rolling seven-day period.
“I know this is an inconvenience. I know it just won’t be the same without an audience and spectators," Browning said. "However, we feel this is a reasonable compromise that will be effective in keeping infection rates under control.”
The announcement was disappointing for parents who lamented missing out on their child's winning slam-dunk or debut on stage.
As some Pasco high schools finish up the football season with playoffs, the schools begin their basketball, soccer and wrestling seasons. They argued that spectators are already sparse at football games due to the coronavirus pandemic. They expect the same will be true for basketball, soccer and wrestling.
Browning assured parents that arrangements could be made for live-streaming events or recording them on video for parents.
Browning received 331 Facebook comments in reaction to his announcement, mostly negative.
"Mr. Browning, you are a disgrace," Deneen Kerrigan said. "You allowed the football season to continue because that makes money for schools. Now that football season is over, you are stopping families from watching their children in other sports, the arts, etc. You are only thinking of how to make money, not on how heartbroken these kids and parents are. Shameful that people voted for you. Not me."
"This is way too much," Mike Smith said. "This only punishes the kids that have worked hard all season to show off their talents. You have safety protocols in place; continue to use them and let the spectators in."
"This is ridiculous," Dawn Stolz said. "Soccer and basketball doesn’t draw as many people as football did. How do you expect sports programs in schools to earn money? Allow at least one parent per child."
Keta Avant was equally concerned that parents wouldn't be in the stands for the football playoffs. Anclote, Zephyrhills, Pasco, Mitchell and Hudson high school all made the playoffs.
"This is absolutely ridiculous," Avant said. "Football is played outside. These boys have played very hard to make it to the playoffs and to say that spectators aren’t allowed if they advance to the next round is absurd."
"This is insane," Gina Robinson-Watkins said. "These kids deserve to have a life. Football is an outside sport and the stadiums are large enough for people to distance...The government can not dictate our lives like this. Some of these parents have seniors and this is the last time they will watch their kids cheer, play football and other sports."
Kelly Burke's son plays high school soccer. She described his reaction when she told him about the school district's ban.
"He said 'Why should I even play then?'" Burke said. "I said 'For you and your undefeated team.'"
No surrounding school districts have placed bans on spectators at sporting and theatrical events.
As of Saturday, Pasco County has had 13,679 people test positive for the coronavirus with 264 deaths and 1,171 hospitalizations.
In the past week, 1,120 Pasco County residents tested positive for the coronavirus. For the past two weeks, 1,849 tested positive.
On Nov. 15, the most recent data posted on the Florida Department of Health's coronavirus dashboard, 1,331 residents were tested for the coronavirus with 1,182 testing negative and 149 testing positive. That gives the county a positivity rate of 11.19 percent.
Courtesy Florida Department of Health
New Port Richey had the highest number of coronavirus cases with 2,800 positive cases since the pandemic began. Next was Wesley Chapel with 1,875 cases, Land O' Lakes with 1,851 cases, Zephyrhills with 1,187 cases, Hudson with 1,094 cases, Dade City with 1,073 cases and Port Richey with 1,008 cases.