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Pinellas releases quarantine protocols for COVID-19 exposure at school

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — School starts Monday, August 24 in some of our larger Tampa Bay area counties, including Hillsborough (classes will begin online for the first 4 weeks), Pinellas, Pasco and Polk Counties.

Many parents are wondering how schools will contain the spread of COVID-19 once students or teachers return to the classroom if someone on campus tests positive for the virus.

“I just really worry as a mom about community spread,” mom of two Stephanie Cox told ABC Action News.

“When you put that many people in a single place together, someone’s going to have it and people are going to get sick,” added Pinellas County 9th and 10th grade reading teacher Travis Lueth.

We took your concerns to the Pinellas County School District and Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County to find out how school leaders will decide which kids and teachers need to quarantine if they’re exposed to the virus at school.

District leaders tell ABC Action News if a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19, the first step is to notify the principal. From there, Health Department leaders will work alongside a district COVID-19 team (made up of two registered nurses and two human resources employees) to decide who needs to stay home for two weeks.

Tom Iovino, a spokesperson for the Department of Health in Pinellas County, says the decision may vary school by school.

“If it’s a student who is in a younger grade that’s in a group setting for the entire day that may be a different investigation than high schoolers who are passing from class to class,” he said.

At the elementary level, entire classes will likely be quarantined after an exposure. The classroom will also be deep cleaned. At the middle and high school level, the quarantine decision will be more on a case by case basis.

The general rule of thumb: If a teacher or student is exposed for more than 15 minutes, and at less than 6 feet apart, from someone who tests positive, they’ll need to quarantine.

MAP: Tampa Bay area schools that have reported confirmed positive COVID-19 cases

Lueth hopes school leaders will notify everyone of any potential exposures.

“I would want to make sure anyone at risk of contracting was at least told that you had the potential of being exposed,” he added.

The district will require students and employees who test positive to have waited 10 days after symptoms appeared before coming back to school or since the positive test date and be at least 24 hours fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Quarantined students and staff won’t be required to get tested for COVID-19, but it will be strongly recommended. Teachers who test positive must get medical clearance from a doctor before returning to campus.

The Health Department says they’re relying on parents to be the first line of defense.

“The importance can not be overstated of if your child is sick with a fever, don’t send that child to school,” Iovino said.

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