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Positivity Rate of School-Aged Kids Has Slightly Increased, Says Palm Beach County Health Director

Dr. Alina Alonso at the Palm Beach County Commission meeting on July 14 2020.
Dr. Alina Alonso at the Palm Beach County Commission meeting on July 14 2020.

As the Palm Beach County school district decides how to open schools this year, the county’s health director is raising concerns about child safety amid the pandemic. She says the positivity rate for kids under 18 has gone up slightly. 

During an exchange with Commissioner Mack Bernard at Tuesday's county commission meeting, Dr. Alina Alonso — the county's health director — says the positive rate went from 29.1 percent to 33.6 percent. 

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"A third of the age under 18 that we test are positive, " Alonso said. "And while many of these especially younger children are asymptomatic, when you take x-rays of their lungs and down in Miami and in other places across the country, they're seeing that there is damage to the lungs." 

Alonso also warned of possible long-term effects of the virus on school-aged children.

"That is very important, we don't know how that's going to manifest a year from now or two years from now," Alonso said. "Is that child gonna have chronic pulmonary problems or not? So, this is not the virus that you bring everybody together to make sure you catch and get it over with." 

Dr. Donald Fennoy, the school district's superintendent, recommended that all public schools in the county — a district that includes more than 174,000 students — begin the new academic year with online distance learning, according to a summary of his plan released Monday.

If the county enters phase two of state's reopening plan, Fennoy says his preliminary plans — which requires a school board vote Wednesday — would require the youngest students to return first to Palm Beach County schools. Those students would include kindergartners, first-graders, sixth-graders, and freshmen at high schools. 

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, citing the ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases, formerly requested that the county board rescined their request to join the state's Phase 2 plan. No vote was taken on that request but her proposal may be discussed at the commission's next meeting.

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Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.