Florida Districts Combat Zika Virus as School Year Begins

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

With the school year set to begin, school board officials in Florida are working on efforts to keep students safe from the Zika virus as the number of cases in the state rises to 25, and US health officials continue to warn pregnant women to avoid areas known to spread the infection.

Florida’s Department of Health has found active transmission to be taking place in a 1-square-mile area including Miami’s Wynwood arts district.

A mosquito-born illness, Zika causes mild, flu-like symptoms.  However, it can also cause brain-related defects, such as severely small heads, if a woman is infected during pregnancy.

With students returning to school in Miami on August 22, Wynwood schools are allowing students to wear pants and long-sleeve shirts that do not coordinate with their uniforms.  As a number of students in the area come from low-income homes, additional uniforms that include long pants and shirts will be provided at no extra cost.  However, they will not be allowed to bring mosquito repellent to class.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho stated that the “aggressive application” of any mosquito repellent should be completed at home before coming to school for the day, adding that some students may be allergic to the spray.  “Prevention and protection, two sides of the same coin, has a solution,” he said.

A plan to protect students, teachers, and employees was outlined by Carvalho at a school board meeting last week, requiring daily inspections to be performed, which would include the draining of any standing water as well as mosquito repellent dunks outside.  In addition, the Florida Department of Health will visit all six affected schools on the first day of classes to answer questions and distribute repellent to any families who need it.

In the event that the health department decides that outside activities should be limited, physical education classes will either be moved inside or to another location, reports Jessica Holly for WSVN.

“The effective prevention protection includes the daily inspection of these six sites to ensure that pools of water are non-existent,to keep trimming bushes that obstruct the view of where water would accumulate,” said Carvalho.

In addition, M-DCPS officials have been leaving voicemails for parents about the virus and several steps for prevention.  “You can guard against mosquito borne illnesses, such as the Zika virus by wearing long shirts and long pants,” the voice message said.

One week before classes begin, a communication plan will be implemented, as well as e-mails, social media, and face-to-face meetings in order to ensure that all employees, parents, and students are ready.

“The best preventive tool we have is aggressive awareness and communication,” Carvalho said.

At the same time, aerial spraying of pesticides in an effort to reduce the number of adult mosquitoes in the area is scheduled to be completed later in the week over Wynwood as well as surrounding areas.  Tablets of larvae-eating bacteria are also being dropped into storm drains throughout Miami-Dade County.

In all, there are more than 4,000 students enrolled in the six schools in the Wynwood arts district, as well as hundreds of teachers and employees.