SARASOTA — After spiking into the high teens for positivity rates at the start of the school year, leading Sarasota County Schools to mandate masks, the rate of COVID-19 is coming down enough for students to take masks off, if they wish.
The district announced Sunday afternoon that the emergency policy that took effect earlier in September “is automatically suspended” after the positivity rate for COVID-19 infections came down below 8% for three days in a row.
“We strongly encourage everyone to continue to wear a face mask when indoors to help keep the positivity rate below 8%,” it said in a news release.
The face mask policy, which was followed relatively without issue last school year, became a hot-topic as this school year was underway — despite an obvious spike in COVID-19 infections throughout Florida. The district, threatened by state officials and local residents alike, passed a temporary emergency face mask policy on Aug. 20, saying it was good for 90 days or would be lifted once three days of lower than 8% positivity rate was accomplished.
That rate was measured over the weekend through the data maintained by the Florida Department of Health, it said.
The delta variant of COVID-19 raced through Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties early in the school year, with 251 students and 12 staff members of Sarasota County Schools diagnosed with coronavirus the first week of the month.
In late August, they had a week where there were 606 students and 60 staff members testing positive.
In one Sarasota County fifth-grade classroom, there were only three students, according to Pat Gardner, president of the Sarasota County Teachers Association, the union which represents teachers in Sarasota County Schools.
That same week, Charlotte County Public Schools on Friday reported 189 new cases of COVID among students and personnel.
The numbers have lessened with masks and an overall lessening of the delta variant.
The emergency policy passed in a controversial 3-2 vote by the School Board. It led to hundreds of parents seeking exemptions through a chiropractor, dermatologist and gynecologist in the last two months. It also kicked off a variety of protests throughout the area.
Technically, the emergency policy is still in effect, the district noted.
“At any time while this emergency policy is in effect but suspended, the requirements contained in the temporary emergency face mask policy will automatically reactivate and apply any time the positivity rate in Sarasota County for COVID-19 is above 10%,” it said.
The emergency policy is in effect until Nov. 23 — at which point it will be revisited.
But officials with the district — while given the option to bring down the masks — aren’t making it any kind of demand.
“We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 positivity rate and share any additional updates as soon as possible, as needed,” it said.