Aug. 17 (UPI) — Nearly 5,600 students in a single Florida county as well as hundreds of its teachers have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have come into contacted with a positive case, officials said Monday, as the state’s Republican governor continues to fight to prevent schools from mandating face masks.
The Hillsborough County School Board, which serves nearly 230,000 students in west central Florida that includes Tampa, said in a statement that as of 7 a.m. 5,599 students and 316 teachers were either in quarantine or isolation.
“Isolation refers to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 while quarantine refers to those who have had close contact with a positive case,” the district said.
The board will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the outbreak and ways to mitigate further spread of the deadly coronavirus “up to and including mandatory face coverings for all students and staff.”
The statement was made days after the local teacher’s union for Broward County said on Friday that two teachers and an educational assistant, all unvaccinated, had died within 36 hours of contracting the virus.
The state, the third most infected of the union, has been combatting spiking cases driven by the Delta variant, and set a record high of nearly 26,000 daily infections on Friday, according to worldometers.info.
The surge has prompted school districts, such as the state’s largest Houston Independent School Board and Broward, to order masks be worn by all staff and students in violation of a Gov. Ron DeSantis executive order prohibiting government institutions, including schools, from making masks mandatory.
DeSantis has also threatened the pay of superintendents who impose such orders.
The Biden administration has urged Florida, as well as Texas, which is running under a similar executive order, to reverse the ban on mask mandates.
“The department recognizes that several school districts in your state have already moved to adopt such policies in line with guidance from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for the reopening and operation of school facilities despite the state-level prohibitions,” the Department of Education said in a letter to DeSantis. “The department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely re-open schools and maintain safe in-person instruction “