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Huge COVID outbreak hammers Duval schools

School psychologist Megan Hahn helps students at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach.
Wilfredo Lee
School psychologist Megan Hahn helps students at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach.

In just two weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases reported in Duval County Public Schools nearly surpassed the total number of cases reported for the entire 2020-2021 school year, easily eclipsing previous peaks.

The district's COVID-19 dashboard reports 5,329 cases since the school year started Aug. 10. A total of 2,188 came between Jan. 3, the first day teachers and staff returned from the holiday break, and Thursday, Jan. 13.

The entire 2020-2021 school year, most of which took place under Mayor Lenny Curry's mask mandate, had fewer than half the cases of the current school year, which is barely halfway over with four months of school left to go.

Between the first day of school on Aug. 20, 2020, and the last day the dashboard was updated on June 3, 2021, there were 2,498 cases across the county's schools, according to the district's archived dashboard.

Curry's mask mandate, which included schools, ran from the end of June 2020 to the end of March 2021.

The Duval County School Board instituted its own mask mandate at the start of the current school year, but the district dropped the mandate in December after a legal battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and students during the first semester, driven by the delta variant, caused multiple Jacksonville schools to temporarily shut down and transition to remote-only learning until local surges got under control.

No schools switched to online learning this month, despite the higher caseloads, but nearly a hundred administrators were forced to fill in for absent and quarantined teachers this week, along with internal school staff acting as substitutes for hundreds of missing teachers.

The policy was instituted by Superintendent Diana Greene last week. She is also filling in as a substitute under the emergency plan.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.