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Virologists recommend classroom 'bubbles' as kids return to school, but are Tampa Bay area districts following that advice?

The bubble or cohorting method has been used in other countries to contain COVID-19 and to make contact tracing easier.

TAMPA, Fla. — Every school district in the Tampa Bay area has postponed the beginning of school and in-person classes to better prepare for a safe return to learning.

Districts are finalizing social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines and creating a protocol for handling positive cases of COVID-19. 

One recommendation many researchers and virologists have for a safe return to in-person learning is creating classroom "bubbles" or cohorting. 

"Basically, the idea is that you keep your group of students together. Let's say you have 20 kids, you keep those 20 kids together and limit the exposure to other kids. So if a kid gets infected in the bubble, you know that these are all of the people that have come into contact and contract tracing is a lot easier," said Dr. Michael Teng, an associate professor at the University of South Florida.

This bubbling method has been used in other countries in different parts of Europe and Asia. Some schools created classroom bubbles of about 30 students at the elementary level and year bubbles at the middle and high school levels. When one child or staff member in a bubble tests positive, then only that group of students and staff has to isolate, rather than the entire school. 

RELATED: 10 frequently-asked questions about reopening Tampa Bay schools from coronavirus closures

So, we wanted to find out if Tampa Bay area schools are following the recommendation of doctors and scientists. We asked all of our area districts 10 questions about reopening schools. One of those questions was about whether or not students would stay in their classrooms or switch classes, essentially breaking their bubble.

It turns out, only one school district in the Tampa Bay area is directly using bubbling or cohorting. DeSoto County schools are keeping their students kindergarten through eighth grade in bubbles.

Pasco County elementary students will remain in their classrooms for most of the day.

For most every other school district in the Tampa Bay area, students will switch from class to class as normal at high schools and middle schools, although schools say they'll put a focus on limiting crowds and disinfecting.

RELATED: Here are the reopening plans for Tampa Bay school districts

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