Schools Brace For Monkeypox Outbreak With Little Guidance To Guide Response

Schools Brace For Monkeypox Outbreak With Little Guidance to Guide Response

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As the number of monkeypox cases increases in Florida, school districts are faced with the challenge of addressing the disease as students, teachers, and staff begin their first day of school this week.

State health officials have not provided much guidance to districts, leaving important questions unanswered for now.

Cody Strother from the Escambia County school district in the Panhandle revealed that they have not received any guidance from the Florida Department of Health, despite the rising number of monkeypox cases reaching 938. As of Monday, the state health agency reported one monkeypox case in Escambia County for the first time.

Without further guidance, the Escambia school district will continue implementing COVID-related safety measures as a defense against monkeypox. Strother emphasized the importance of sanitation, ensuring regular cleaning and sanitization of all surfaces, and maintaining clean and sanitary facilities.

On the Atlantic coast, northeast Flagler County has reported one monkeypox case as of Monday. Jason Wheeler, a communications staffer for the district, stated that there is currently no need for additional safety measures but mentioned that if the state Department of Health provides guidance on the spread of monkeypox, the district will adhere to their recommendations.

However, the number of cases in Escambia and Flagler counties are relatively low compared to Miami-Dade and Broward counties, each reporting over 300 cases. In total, Florida is nearing 1,000 cases, a significant increase from July 11.

It remains uncertain if the state health department intends to share any guidance regarding monkeypox with Florida’s school districts. Jeremy Redfern, the spokesperson for the state health department, tweeted on Aug. 4, expressing his surprise at receiving requests for monkeypox guidance from school boards and stating that mask mandates for children would not be allowed for a disease that primarily spreads among adult men through sexual contact. This response is notable because new Florida laws prohibit school districts from imposing mask mandates on students following parental rights decisions on masks. The Florida Phoenix has reached out to Redfern multiple times for further clarification but has not received a response.

On Aug. 4, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared monkeypox a public health emergency, as announced by the Florida Phoenix. In July, the World Health Organization also declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of monkeypox cases have been observed among men who have sex with men. However, the CDC highlights that anyone can contract monkeypox. The virus can spread through close personal contact, including skin-to-skin contact, as well as by touching objects such as clothing, bedding, and surfaces that have been used by an individual with monkeypox.

Education Week, a national education news site, provides advice for school leaders, emphasizing that there is no need to panic among school and district leaders. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University, suggests that school leaders should stay informed rather than alarmed. Education Week reports that while there may be additional cases among children as efforts are made to contain the outbreak, widespread transmission in schools seems unlikely. However, certain children, such as those 8 years old and under or those with compromised immune systems or specific skin conditions, may be at a higher risk of severe illness if infected.

The Florida Phoenix, a part of the States Newsroom network, is an independent news bureau supported by grants and a coalition of donors. For inquiries, please contact Editor Diane Rado at Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • ernestfarley

    Ernest is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who writes about a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. He has a passion for helping others learn and grow, and believes that education should be accessible to everyone. Ernest is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and he has taught high school students in the United States, Mexico, and Chile.