Most Florida schools have already started, and state officials are continuing to prepare school superintendents as well as school personnel on what they can do to inform parents and protect the students from the Zika virus.
So far, Florida has more than 485 cases of the Zika virus that can cause severe birth defects. They include cases involving pregnant women, travel-related cases, and locally transmitted cases as well.
For the past few weeks, Governor Rick Scott has been holding roundtables in different counties—some affected by the mosquito-borne disease and some not yet impacted.
“I want everyone to get informed,” said Scott, following a roundtable meeting. “Everybody could have an impact. No standing water in your house, your apartment, or your yard. On top of that, times when mosquitoes are biting, wear longer sleeves, longer pants, wear bug repellent…so, my goal is we don’t see the expansion of the number of Zika cases we have. The state’s done a very good job controlling other mosquito-borne viruses, [like] chikungunya and dengue fever. We can do the same thing with this.”
Scott has also been doing conference calls with different stakeholders. And, one he was most recently a part of involved Florida’s superintendents—who manage their own school districts.
“With the new school year approaching, I absolutely appreciate your partnership as we work to take every step necessary to ensure the safety of Florida’s students and educators,” he stated. “I asked the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Governors to partner together to provide critical Zika prevention guidance and resources to our students, our parents, and our educators across the state.”
Scott says he’s been in talks with some other school stakeholders on Zika preparedness as well.
“I’ve also met with some of the members of Florida’s K-12 public school system, the Florida College System, and state university system to discuss what’s currently being done in our school,” he added. “Our goal is to keep an open line of communication and doing everything that we can to educate everybody about the risk and what we’re doing to make sure that we are staying ahead of the game.”
While most Florida schools have started, the Palm Beach and Miami-Dade area has not. The South Florida region is the most affected by the Zika virus—making up about half of the state’s cases not involving pregnant women. That includes travel-related and local transmissions.
Local transmissions have largely been in Wynood, a neighborhood in Miami.
The Miami-Dade school district already started putting out automated voicemails to parents and students.
“Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. You should also apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing, especially when going outside in the evening hours, and use mosquito netting with children younger than 2 months,”
While the district is relaxing its dress code a bit to allow students to cover up more, putting on mosquito repellent at the Miami-Dade county schools is not allowed. The goal is to protect those with allergies.
It’s not the only school district to say that. Leon County—which recently got its first Zika case—has a similar policy.
“You know, we are very aware of the impact that mosquito repellent can have if it’s put in the presence of maybe a child with asthma or a child with another reaction,” said Leon school district spokesman Chris Petley. “What we are suggesting is that if parents would like to be extra prepared, they can spray their children with bug repellent, prior to coming to school campuses. And, in more drastic measures, they can work with their individual school to …. Bug repellent with their child. But, the application of the bug repellent would have to be done in accordance to how the school would want to do that.”
And, Dr. Celeste Philip—Florida’s Surgeon General—says that’s something her agency is taking into account.
“We’re working on getting a contact name for each entity in each county so we can ship repellent as requested,” she said. “We understand that there are some concerns. In some schools, the policy does not allow for repellent, that there may be concerns about safety, exposure to others. So, we are putting information together to address all of those issues, and we want to ensure that that is available the most appropriate local decisions to be made.”
In addition to providing educational materials to teachers, the state has launched a “Spill the Water” campaign aimed at kids and is looking to launch similar prevention efforts soon. Standing water is seen as a breeding site for mosquitoes.
Meanwhile, the Governor has already allocated $26 million of state funds towards these efforts and says he may have to allocate more—when the need arises.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.