Joseph Pepe

Joseph Pepe, Administrator at the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County, gave an update on COVID-19 numbers and vaccination information at a workshop on Tuesday morning to members of the Charlotte County School Board.

Although COVID-19 vaccinations are coming soon, the number of positive cases in Charlotte County is expected to grow over the next few months, according to Joseph Pepe, Administrator at the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County.

Pepe presented an update on COVID-19 to members of the Charlotte County School Board at a workshop on Tuesday morning.

“The numbers for almost all age groups have gone up dramatically since the end of October,” Pepe said. “With the upcoming holidays, we can expect this kind of pattern to continue as people are gathering and celebrating together. What we’re seeing is a high amount of our high school kids testing positive. The 15-and-older crowd is more mobile ... they socialize and they have more extracurricular activities. The good thing is the numbers should pause — as far as school impact — once Christmas break starts.”

One of the challenges is how to align the county numbers with the school district’s dashboard page, he said.

For example, if a mother of a student tests positive but chooses to not have her child tested, the child could be a carrier, but not officially a positive case.

“So that doesn’t give us clear data,” Pepe said. “We are constantly trying to track where Covid is being transmitted.”

Of the 89 staff and student cases listed on the district’s dashboard page Wednesday, 30 were from the district’s three traditional high schools.

Pepe said that even though the CDC released new guidelines regarding the amount of required quarantine days, it doesn’t change the fact that the outcome is unpredictable.

“The science hasn’t changed,” he said. “If a student was exposed and does not experience symptoms, there is still a risk that he or she could potentially become positive after 10 days. And then there’s the risk of secondary exposure.”

Board Member Kim Amontree said she is concerned with the rising absentee rate of students.

“Absentee rate is up 30% from this time last year and that’s an alarming figure,” Amontree said. “According to the community boards I serve on, teen anxiety and substance abuse is also on the rise.”

Pepe pointed out that there have been no COVID-19 deaths in the county for any person aged 35 and younger.

“In the past week, we’ve had 442 new positive cases in Charlotte County,” Pepe said. “If you do the math that’s going to be about 1,200 new cases this month. Two months ago we were averaging about 80 cases per week. The goal has always been to suppress this thing long enough so we can have a medical intervention to help stop it.”

In other news:

Head Start at the Baker Center currently has a waiting list, showing how many families are in need of assistance this year.

Superintendent Steve Dionisio asked for a moment of silence to remember Mac Horton at the Tuesday evening meeting. “Mac was a former county commissioner and supervisor of elections and in honor of his service to Charlotte County and the students of Charlotte County, I would like to honor his service for a brief moment,” Dionisio said.

The 2021/2022 school calendars were approved. The year-round students will return on Aug. 13 , early head start students on Aug. 6 and the regular schools will resume on Aug. 10.


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