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Education

Late Buses, Staff Shortages: Coronavirus Surge Causes Turmoil In Sarasota Schools

Superintendent Brennan Asplen speaks without a mask at a Sarasota school board meeting
SCREENSHOT: Sarasota County Schools
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Sarasota superintendent Brennan Asplen

School officials worry that cases are beginning to spread inside schools, and that quarantine numbers will soon "explode."

Some bus drivers are out sick, meaning children don't get to school on time. Cafeteria workers are increasingly testing positive, or going home on quarantine, so lunch service some days is now grab and go.

And one school had 35 adults out in a single day this week, Sarasota's superintendent Brennan Asplen said at a school board workshop Tuesday.

"What concerns me is yes, we are able to handle it and figure it out right now, but if it gets worse, this isn't like anything we've ever seen before, from an operations standpoint," Asplen said.

A district dashboard of coronavirus cases showed 74 staff and 367 students have tested positive since the first day of school, August 10. The Sarasota County school district has about 43,000 students in all.

Sarasota schools’ chief operations officer Jody Dumas said cases are being identified in schools, indicating a possible new phase of community spread.

“Now you are getting positives in the worksites and in the school, and so now you are going to see a lot more quarantines exploding,” said Dumas.

“From our perspective in operations, that is what we are really worried about. You are going to have the quarantines start to hit us now, and can we handle that? I guess that is the question moving forward.”

Sarasota Memorial Hospital is seeing its highest number of COVID patients ever, with 239 patients on Tuesday, 76 in the ICU, and 52 of those in ICU being COVID-positive, infectious disease doctor Manuel Gordillo said.

“The majority of them are on ventilators,” Gordillo told the school board via Zoom.

“Today probably was the worst day of the pandemic so far. Extremely pressured. Everybody is under stress. The hospital is doing what they can to manage the operations. It's extremely difficult. Staff is very resilient, but also exhausted and tired.”

Gordillo urged the school board to adopt a mandatory mask policy with no opt-out clause, in order to help curb the rise of cases in the community.

“Everybody wants the hospital, the school system to succeed, but we are in a symbiotic relationship. We must assist each other,” Gordillo said.

No school board action is expected before an emergency meeting can be held Friday, August 20 at 3 p.m. Even then, it’s unclear what the board will decide.

“Breaking the law is not an option for me,” said board member Karen Rose, referring to the executive order by Governor Ron DeSantis which bars school districts from imposing mask mandates in Florida.

Board member Bridget Ziegler has also said she is opposed to any mask mandates.

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