Two Beachland Elementary School staff members tested positive for COVID-19 before Spring Break, causing 22 students to be quarantined.
The staff cases were confirmed March 15, five days after three Beachland Elementary students tested positive for the virus and 19 of their classmates were quarantined.
According to School District press releases, Beachland Elementary has had 11 COVID-19 cases, with 7 students and 4 teachers testing positive for the virus since public schools opened Aug. 24.
However, the Florida Department of Health’s March 26 report on COVID-19 in schools statewide showed a total of 15 cases at Beachland Elementary this school year involving 10 students, two staff members and three unknown people.
That four-case disparity between the two sets of numbers – for which the School District has now provided an explanation – is the smallest among 20 public schools in Indian River County.
The largest disparity involves Pelican Island Elementary School in Sebastian, where School District press releases indicate two students have tested positive for the virus this school year, while the Health Department’s March 26 report shows 11 students and three unknown people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Generally speaking, the Florida Department of Health reported nearly twice as many COVID-19 cases in the public schools in Indian River County as the School District, an analysis by 32963/Vero News shows.
FDOH reported a total of 824 cases involving 669 public school students, 47 staff members and 108 unknown people as of March 20 in Indian River County’s public schools.
Meanwhile, SDIRC’s press releases reported a total of 429 cases involving 325 students and 104 staff members as of March 28.
Deputy Schools Superintendent Scott Bass said the two sets of numbers are due to different reporting criteria and purposes.
The state and county numbers differ because the School District is only issuing press releases on the cases that impact school campuses, while the Health Department reports include all cases involving students and staff members, Bass said – including students who get sick while studying at home, skipping school, traveling or elsewhere.
“I can’t even think of an advantage for us not to be transparent,” Bass said during a recent interview.
“Every case that the Health Department has come out to the schools and had to do contact tracing in the schools, and was a direct impact to the schools, we have reported,” Bass said. “The discrepancy is everything else. The Health Department reports every single case.”
Families who have more than one child contract the virus contribute to the reporting disparity, too, Bass said. Several students quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 wound up infecting siblings at home who were counted in the Health Department reports, but not the School District press releases because they had not recently been on a campus.
District spokeswoman Cristen Maddux summed up the disparity in the state and county COVID-19 numbers this way this way:
The Indian River County office of the Florida Department of Health contact traces positive COVID-19 cases that impact campuses.
If a student or staff member is not present on campus 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms, the health department does not do contact tracing at the affected school, and the school district does not report the case.
If a student or staff member is present on campus or in a district building 48 hours or less prior to the onset of symptoms, contact tracing is completed by the Department of Health.
Positive COVID-19 cases are reported to the School District either through self-reporting by employees and students’ families, or by a report from the Department of Health and/or Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital after receiving test results.
If those reported cases do not require contact tracing due to the period of time the positive individual was on campus or in a district building, the case is reported by the Department of Health on their records, but the School District does not report the case in a public media release.