Pasco school superintendent, fire chief plead with public to wear masks

Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning said the number of COVID cases in the school district to start the year has been "pretty staggering.”

The Florida Department of Health in Pasco County reported that from Aug. 6-12, 6,153 people have been vaccinated, there have been 3,871 new cases of COVID-19, and there has been a 25.6% new case positivity rate.

Due to the increase in cases, Pasco County Fire Chief Scott Cassin addressed the public about the over-use of dialing 9-1-1 in a non-emergency.

“Hospital emergency rooms are currently being inundated with patients and the time it takes to be seen in an emergency room is skyrocketing across our community,” Cassin said. “Many hospitals are at or over capacity.”

Cassin asks the public that unless someone is experiencing an emergency that requires immediate attention, such as chest pains, shortness of breath, stroke, serious trauma or other life-threatening illness/injury, to please utilize their doctor’s office, walk-in clinics or urgent care centers.

Cassin also highly recommends anyone older than 12 to get the vaccine. Pasco County Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning agrees, especially after seeing an increase of positive cases since school started in early August.

During this past week’s School Board meeting, Browning said, “It has been a good opening but it’s been a trying opening. With the governor issuing the prohibition and the executive order from masking students, we have certainly seen an increase in student cases, as well as adult cases.”

Browning said the total positive cases in the school district as of Aug. 17 was at 1,261. The biggest challenge, he said, was contact tracing. At least 393 families had been contacted, Browning said, but for the remaining 868 cases, cases are so significant that by the time the school district gets around to contact-tracing these students, the 10-day quarantine will have run its course.

“It’s problematic that you may have asymptomatic positive cases in the classrooms,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it unless they start showing symptoms, and then they’ll be sent home. I think these numbers are pretty staggering.”

Contact tracing within schools is an extremely complex situation, Browning explained. If “Cynthia” is positive, the school must find out who she sat next to in a classroom that was within three feet of her for a period of 15 minutes or more, then who sat with her at lunch, who she played volleyball with and who she sat next to on the bus home. Whereas, the health department may need to contact-trace a much smaller number of people connected with one person who tested positive.

The Pasco School District received a grant from the Department of Health to hire additional registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to assist the schools with contract tracing. Browning said he wanted school nurses to go back to nursing. The school district has lost school nurses due to the amount of work they have in relation to contact tracing. The cases are coming in so quickly, Browning said, that it takes nurses 1-2 hours to contact trace one case, and there are still 868 cases to trace. Well over a thousand hours needs to be dedicated to this task.

“My goal is to keep kids in school, teachers and staff at work,” Browning said. “We cannot, parents cannot, risk having the loss of instructional time for their students.”

Browning also discussed COVID-19 home tests having an impact on reporting accurate positive cases on the school district’s website. Additionally, testing done at sites such as CVS or Walgreens will contact the school district first and then the Department of Health, which may lead to less accurate numbers of cases reported. Due to this, the school district decided to change its methods of notifying parents, putting more responsibility on each school.

To date, the 2021-2022 school year has seen 1,801 student cases and 387 staff cases.