COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Nearly 9,000 Tampa-area students and school faculty are in quarantine after COVID exposure

August 17, 2021, 9:04 PM UTC

Tampa schools could be gearing up for a legal battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as nearly 9,000 students and teachers are in isolation or quarantine after just one week of school.

A spokesperson from Hillsborough County Public Schools, which includes the Tampa area, told the Washington Post Tuesday that 8,400 students and 307 staff members are in isolation or quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 or coming into close contact with someone who tested positive. The number of students affected is up from what the district announced Monday morning, that 5,599 students and 316 employees were in isolation or quarantine.

The district also reported a COVID case count of 730 on Tuesday. Classes began on Aug. 10.

An emergency school board meeting will be held Wednesday evening to discuss the spread of the virus and take up the issue of mandatory mask wearing in schools. If approved, that could put the school district directly at odds with DeSantis.

DeSantis, a rumored 2024 presidential candidate, has issued a statewide order that prohibits schools from requiring face coverings. At one point, he threatened to withhold the salaries of school officials who defied that order, but his office has since admitted it does not have control over local employees’ compensation.

Hillsborough County wouldn’t be the first to defy the order. Miami-Dade County has announced it will require students to wear masks when classes start next week. Like many mask mandates in states where governors oppose them, the Hillsborough County proposal is for a limited time. It would be effective through Sept. 3, but could be extended.

The explosive growth of COVID-19 cases among students in the Tampa area comes just one day after schools in Atlanta reported over 4,000 COVID cases in just two weeks. Ten districts in that metro area have already suspended in-person learning. Some parents, though, are still adamantly opposed to mask requirements in Atlanta—and the situation is likely to be even more political in Florida, where DeSantis’s campaign team sells merchandise that both mocks safety guidelines and name-checks White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci.  

More health care and Big Pharma coverage from Fortune:

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories straight to your inbox each morning.