COVID-19 cases spike in young people, school districts delay start in Northwest Florida

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

On the day Okaloosa County School Superintendent Marcus Chambers announced plans to request a delay in the county’s public school start date, scary new numbers were emerging regarding kids and COVID-19.

In her latest weekly report, county Department of Health Director Dr. Karen Chapman states that since July 1 the number of children between the ages of 5-17 who have tested positive for the coronavirus has spiked significantly.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, 103 children ages 5-17 have been diagnosed with COVID-19,“ Chapman stated in a weekly report released Monday. ”The vast majority, 68 (66%), have been diagnosed since July 1.“

The increases in young people testing positive were not just noted in school-age children. Chapman likewise reported a 60 percent spike in children aged 0-4 since July 1.

Chambers announced Tuesday that he will ask the School Board to push the school start date back from Aug. 11 to Aug. 31. Santa Rosa and Escambia counties announced the same day they plan to delay their first day of classes by about two weeks.

Chapman is expected to speak to the School Board at its workshop Thursday, according to board member Dewey Destin.

She sent an email to board members Friday in which she outlined previous advice provided to district administrators regarding re-opening.

She said she had advised the school district that any staff or child arriving at school with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 must be excluded from school for 10 days and meet certain criteria before returning.

She also advised the district to consider quarantining everyone who had spent time in a classroom where a positive case had been discovered.

Chapman did not weigh in on her email on the topic of opening schools.

“I have been clear with the School District that I can only give advice about the status of the pandemic and guidance on CDC published guidelines,” she said. “I have not approved or endorsed any particular method of school reopening in Okaloosa.”

Chapman’s latest weekly report to county leaders again noted several areas of critical concern.

For the past 14 days, the county has been averaging 85 COVID-19 case diagnoses per day, Chapman reported. That is up from just under 40 cases per day a month ago.

An estimated 13 percent of all those being tested are turning up as positive for the coronavirus, Chapman’s report said. That’s an increase of just over 6 percent from the previous 14-day period.

Since July 15, more than 85 percent of all ICU beds in Okaloosa County have been in use. More than 80 percent of all beds available in the county’s three acute care hospitals were occupied for six consecutive days prior to Monday.

“Between July 1-7, Okaloosa averaged about 19 COVID-19 positive patients per day in the hospital, occupying an average of of 20 percent of the county’s ICU beds,“ Chapman wrote. ”In the past six days the county had a high of 52 individuals hospitalized and one day in which 44 percent of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 beds.“

The number of COVID-19 deaths has also spiked, Chapman noted. An increase from 10 to 15 deaths represents a 50 percent increase in total deaths since July 12, Chapman reported. The county’s 16th death was reported Tuesday.

There continues to be “widespread ongoing transmission” of the virus within Okaloosa County, Chapman said. “The situation continues to worsen.”

“There is a continued need for social distancing and to wear face masks in all public spaces,” Chapman wrote. “Failure of most of the population to follow these two critical mitigation measures is significantly contributing to the spread of COVID-19.”