Sweet 16 birthday party likely led to Timber Creek High School cases, health officials say

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A birthday party is likely to blame for the COVID-19 cases at Timber Creek High School, resulting in it switching to online learning for two weeks, health officials said Wednesday.

The sweet 16 celebration was brought up by health leaders at Orange County’s press briefing.

READ: Timber Creek High School joins growing list of schools closed due to COVID-19 cases

At least 15 of the students at the party have tested positive, which is half of those who attended.

A major concern for health officials is that some are involved in sports, which means they’re around other age groups and grades.

The birthday party was in Avalon Park, and health officials say students who attended go to three different high schools.

The switch to online learning for Timber Creek came one day after Governor Ron DeSantis said he didn’t want schools closing.

Officials from the Orange County School District and Health Department responded to the governor’s comments Thursday.

Dr. Raul Pino with the Orange County Health Department notes that whether a school closes or not isn’t their decision.

READ: DeSantis loosens restrictions on visits to long-term care facility; we explain the changes

“The school board makes that decision. When we have a situation that we are concerned on...we will get with the board, with the superintendent, everyone on their team, and have a conference call,” Pino says.

And with that data, the school district decided Wednesday to shift everyone at Timber Creek online, after 14 positive cases. It’s the third Orange County School to make that switch.

“I think the success is what we’ve seen, once they return, we didn’t see any existing residual cases that came out of those areas,” OCPS spokesperson Scott Howat said.

The governor, on the other hand, says school closures should be completely “off the table," and that they don’t do anything to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Pino disagrees. When asked directly if pivoting to online learning helps prevent the spread of the virus in schools, he said, “Most definitely.”

The Health Department sent out more than 200 quarantine letters to people who they say came into close contact with the 14 positive students and staff members at Timber Creek.

The Governor also disagrees with that approach, advising against quarantines for healthy students.

READ: Florida reports lower increase in coronavirus-related deaths day after state announces new review process

“Someone who had just a glancing exposure...to say they are out for two weeks when they are perfectly healthy, I think is not the way to go," DeSantis said.

Dr. Pino had a response for that as well.

When asked why people without symptoms may need to be quarantined he notes that about a quarter of the students they’ve interviewed are asymptomatic and can still spread the virus.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.