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As of Aug. 21, the Volusia County Health Department will stop testing the general public for COVID-19, and will do only school-related virus testing.

“As far as public concern, our testing is ending on Aug. 21,” Department of Health Administrator Patricia Boswell told the Volusia County School Board Aug. 11. “We’ll be prioritizing to support the schools in the area opening. And so, when there’s indication of the need for COVID tests related to the school, we’ll be available and have the resources available.”

In the past few months, the DOH has mainly focused its testing on contact tracing and targeted populations, while most of the testing in West Volusia has been through private and community-health care providers. A full list of testing sites is available here: www.volusia.org/coronavirus 

Also on Aug. 11, the Florida Department of Emergency Management announced that a drive-up site offering both viral and antibody tests will open Friday, Aug. 14, and operate six days a week, from Thursday to Tuesday, at the Volusia County Fairgrounds.

For more information, click HERE.

The DOH is hoping to reduce the turnaround time for test results from their previous average of 48 to 72 hours to between 24 and 48 hours, and has ramped up hiring epidemiologists and contact tracers.

Before COVID-19, Boswell said, the department had four epidemiologists. They have added two more, and allocated for 45 new positions, roughly half of whom will be contact-tracers.

The 21 contact tracers and case investigators have either been already hired, or are in the process of being hired.

“I would say in the next two weeks, with HR running smoothly, and it’s going as expected, to see the rest on board,” Boswell said.

The DOH has been instructed to not give any recommendations on whether schools should or should not reopen, Boswell said. Instead, the health officials advise on best practices and mitigation strategies, conduct testing, and provide notification in the event an individual tests positive.

Who will be told when a child or teacher in school tests positive for COVID? That will depend on the circumstances, Boswell said.

“We have developed letters; they are not ready for release. I expect them any day now,” Boswell said. “I did receive drafts from the Department of Health of letters that are going to all school districts across the state, their letters to parents or legal guardians, as well as to staff and administrators … that are notifying them that they themselves might have been a close contact or that there has been someone in school that’s been a case.”

The notifying letter will hopefully be finalized this week, Boswell said, and will include education and information on the next steps for those impacted by exposure to the coronavirus.

Mask updates

Also at the School Board’s Aug. 11 meeting, members of a mask committee composed of teachers, principals and students presented a draft of their recommendations for mask enforcement.

For elementary, middle, and high-school students, the committee proposed a series of responses when a student is not wearing a mask, beginning with providing a mask (and if the student refuses, sending them home), and ending, on the third offense, with mandatory enrollment in Volusia Live, one of the virtual options offered by the school district this year.

The plan will be tweaked again before final approval, likely at the Tuesday, Aug. 25, virtual School Board meeting. That date is the last time the board will meet before schools reopen Aug. 31.

To see the plan, click HERE (PDF).

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