With local high schools still impacted by COVID-19, Okaloosa tries new quarantine procedure
With its high school COVID-19 numbers still among the highest in the state, the Okaloosa County School District has implemented a new policy for students returning from quarantine.
The new guidelines "give the Department of Health the ability to release students or staff members who don't have symptoms to return to school on day 11 (of their quarantine) as long as they follow the guidelines put forth by the Department of Health, including the wearing of a mask," School District spokesman Steve Horton said.
Students do not have to take a COVID-19 test to return to school on day 11, Horton said, but if they do take a test after day five of the recommended 14-day quarantine and test negative for the virus, they can return as early as day eight.
To attend school on day 11, according to information posted on the School District's website, parents and students must commit to:
- Wearing a face mask, except when eating lunch, to include full covering of the nose and mouth.
- No participation in sports, clubs, or other school group activities in which physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- Practicing frequent and proper handwashing.
- Limiting close interactions with other students and district staff, as much as feasible, during the school day. (Assistance in distancing will be provided at each school.)
- Closely watching for signs of COVID-19 illness during these in-school quarantine days.
"Call your child’s doctor if your child becomes sick and needs medical attention," the website said. "If unable to commit to the above requirements, your child will need to complete the 14 days of quarantine at home."
The same guidelines for early return will be in place for students returning on day eight following a negative test, the website said.
At the end of 2020, Okaloosa County schools had six schools among the top 10 in the state in the number of COVID-19 cases reported. As of Jan. 23, the day the last school report was issued, all four of the district's high schools, along with three Santa Rosa County high schools, remained among the state's leaders.
Crestview and Niceville high schools, however, had blown past Fort Walton Beach High School in the past month in numbers of cases. Crestview was reporting 136 positive cases among students, faculty and staff as of Jan. 23. Niceville was at 120 cases on Jan. 23 and Fort Walton Beach, which was at 91 Dec. 26, stood at 112 cases Jan. 23.
In late December, Fort Walton Beach had the most cases of any school in Florida. Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, which had finished the year second to Fort Walton Beach, ranked highest of any school in the state on Jan. 23, with 147 total cases.
Gulf Breeze High School in Santa Rosa County saw its COVID-19 cases climb to 122. Navarre High School reported 119 cases and Milton High School had 101. Choctawhatchee High School was the only secondary school in Okaloosa County that had not yet hit triple digits, with 96 cases reported as of Jan. 23.
Allen D. Neise High School in St. Johns County had 117 cases as of Jan. 23, and Ponte Vedra High School, also in St. Johns County, has reported 114 cases.
Plant High School in Hillsborough County was the only other state high school to report triple digit COVID-19 numbers, with 103.
The Okaloosa School District website said its new policies were adopted after collaborating with the Health Department to devise a plan for early return.
"The bottom line is that the district and Health Department have worked together to establish a pathway for students without symptoms to return to school safely, sooner," Horton said. "Other districts are implementing in a similar fashion."