Fifty-six students impacted by potential COVID-19 exposure

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
A total of 56 students are affected by the potential exposure to COVID-19 after the first week of school in Okeechobee County.

OKEECHOBEE — A total of 56 students in the Okeechobee County School District are being excluded from school for a period of up to 14 days due to potential exposure to a student who tested positive for COVID-19.

At Okeechobee High School, 11 students on a bus and 21 students from six classrooms were excluded from school for a period of 14 days. One teacher was also excluded for the same amount of time.

“This morning the district was notified by the Department of Health that a student at Okeechobee High School tested positive for COVID-19,” read the email sent by the district to the family of those potentially affected by the exposure. “The student was immediately isolated from others and was sent home from school. We have taken the necessary steps to sanitize any areas which may have been compromised, as outlined in the district’s Reopening Plan. The district continues to adhere to CDC guidelines, which include the use face coverings, maintaining social distancing whenever possible, and checking the temperature of everyone who arrives on campus.”

The use of face masks in schools helped limit the number of those affected by the potenial exposure. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dylan Tedders said that without masks, it is likely the district would have had to exclude over 100 students and six teachers.

At South Elementary, a teacher testing positive for COVID-19 caused the district to exclude 24 students and two adults for up to 14 days. The teacher had not been on campus since Aug. 18.

Custodians cleaned and disinfected the rooms used by the individual, and administrators helped to transition the students to online learning for two weeks.

Superintendent Ken Kenworthy explained the district is using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of exposure as being in close contact of 6 feet or less for 15 minutes or more.

“If there is an exposure, we are going to isolate that individual and see who was around them within six feet for 15 minutes or more,” said Kenworthy. “Then we’re going to identify those individuals as a close contact. If you are beyond that perimeter and you’re still wearing your mask, you should be safe. Simply being in the same classroom, building, or the same event as a positive or symptomatic person does not mean someone must be contact traced or asked to self-isolate.”

The goal is to minimize disruptions by isolating only those individuals with close contact with a positive individual.

In a PowerPoint presentation on Aug. 21, both Kenworthy and Tedders pointed out some of the things observed by the Okeechobee County School District since school began.

According to the PowerPoint, some isolated cases of individuals not wearing masks on campus have been reported throughout the first week of school. There is room for improvement regarding social distancing on campuses. Additionally, incorrect contact information on file has caused some delays in notification of those potentially impacted by exposure.

“If you believe you’ve been exposed or you have symptoms and get tested, we’re asking you to stay home,” said Tedders. “You don’t need to be on a campus until you know the result.”