MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – The highly-contagious omicron variant of coronavirus is impacting the school system in Manatee County. The district is implementing additional proactive mitigation measures in an effort to slow the spread.

The positivity rate in Manatee County was over 30% on Tuesday, which is a record high since the start of the pandemic. Before students were dismissed for winter break, the county’s positivity rate was 6.9%, according to the department of health.

“The two days before we went on winter holiday break, we had 10 positive cases in our schools – that was four staff members and six students. The last two days of school we have had here in Manatee County, we have had 63 staff members and 255 students that were positive in our schools,” Director of Communications Michael Barber said. “It is a dramatic increase and we have to take extra steps to handle that increase.”

Performing arts students at Parrish Community High School found out Tuesday morning their much-anticipated winter performance would not take place. It was scheduled for less than 12 hours later and has not yet been rescheduled.

“The whole cast, you could see them walking around school and the crew and everybody was just heartbroken like all day. Slowly that just turned into frustration,” drama student India Rawana-McKelvey said.

The frustration stemmed from the district’s decision to postpone some extra-curricular and co-curricular events, but not all.

When the Parrish Community High School performance was supposed to be taking place Tuesday evening, the school’s basketball and soccer teams were playing games as scheduled.

Students felt it wasn’t fair.

“I do think there’s a double standard in that they care more about sports and they are more willing to let sports go on and the arts [are] just kind of taking the back seat to them,” drama student Erin Osborne said.

The district shared this message with parents, families and employees Tuesday evening:

Tuesday’s COVID-19 positivity rate in Manatee County was over 30% — the highest rate registered since the pandemic began. That is up from 28% last week, according to the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.  

In response, the school district is employing additional proactive mitigation measures to keep cases down. Additional measures include reviewing all extra-curricular and co-curricular events in our schools for possible re-scheduling until a time when the Manatee County positivity rate returns to a reasonable level.  The updated restrictions will supplement mitigation measures put in place following the winter break such as more social distancing; limiting non-essential visitors to school campuses; holding meetings virtually and providing access to testing sites at John Marble Park in Bradenton as well as the MCR School-Based Health Clinics at Manatee Elementary and Southeast High.

At this time, the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) has not canceled or postponed winter sports activities. We will continue to monitor any updates from the FHSAA.
School district leadership will work closely with school Principals to identify events which can be postponed and rescheduled. The district’s goal is to provide a safe, healthy learning and work environment for all students and staff. 

District leadership will continue to review and update COVID protocols based on feedback from all stakeholders and the Florida Department of Health.”

“We are looking at everything. We are going to review all of those events and make what we feel like is the best decisions for the health and safety of our students and staff. W are going to be reviewing athletic events as well. We are going to do whatever needs to be done. We are trying to be as fair as we can,” said Barber.