Since the start of the school year in August, seventeen employees of a Florida school district have died from Covid-19, officials said Wednesday.
According to Kyle Kennedy, a district spokeswoman, 12 of the 17 employees who died at Polk County Public Schools had returned to work when the school year began on Aug. 10. This school year, the remaining five employees never showed up for work.
Kennedy stated that the district is unaware of how the staff obtained Covid.
The pandemic continues to severely impact our community, and many public servants – including educators, healthcare staff, rescue workers and law enforcement officers – are experiencing tragic losses,” the district said in a statement.
“Every death is a devastating blow to our community and reinforces the need for all people to continue taking precautions to reduce the spread of illness.”
Polk County, which comprises the cities of Lakeland and Winter Haven, is located in central Florida between Tampa and Orlando. According to the district’s website, it is one of the top 30 school systems in the country, with about 106,000 students. According to Kennedy, the school system employs approximately 14,000 people.
As of Aug. 23, there were 3,855 total confirmed Covid cases in the school system, including 3,424 children and 431 employees, according to the district’s Covid-19 dashboard. According to the district’s dashboard, 21,536 persons have been quarantined due to Covid since Aug. 23, including 20,979 students and 557 employees.
Students and personnel in the district are not required to wear masks. Kennedy
Lynn Wilson, a member of the school board in Tampa, told NBC affiliate WFLA,
It’s a terrible tragedy, it really is.”
“Our hands are tied,” Wilson said. “The reality is, you can’t enforce a mask policy. I know a lot of folks wanted a mask policy. I think the real key was allowing a virtual option and we couldn’t do that either.”
The masks ban is still in the courts, with a judge declaring last month that the state must suspend implementing DeSantis’ ban immediately, only to have an appeals court rule it may be enforced while it’s being contested.
According to WFLA, every classroom in Polk County Public Schools has air purifiers. In addition, 50,000 desk shields will be installed in elementary schools. The district said in a statement that the renovation should be finished in November.
“Using federal funding, we are implementing this extra safety measure to help protect our K-5 elementary students, who often work in close proximity to each other and are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.”