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Fort Walton Beach High has reported the most COVID-19 cases among Florida high schools

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

If there's a single thing no high school in Florida wants to lay claim to as number one, it is having accumulated the highest total of COVID-19 cases. 

Fort Walton Beach High School, though, has been saddled with that distinction, according to numbers released recently by the Florida Department of Health. 

More:Data shows hundreds of students sent into quarantine

Between Sept. 6, a week after the start of the school year, and Nov. 14, Fort Walton Beach High has reported 79 total cases of COVID-19. With 66 students, five teachers and one staff member having tested positive, according to the Department of Health. Seven more positive cases have been declared "unknown." 

Santa Rosa County's Pace High School appeared third on a top 10 list of high schools in the state and Choctawhatchee High School was sixth. Pace High has reported 52 cases and Choctaw 43.

More:Okaloosa County struggles to defeat COVID-19

At Choctawhatchee High School 37 students and two teachers have caught the virus. There were four cases listed as unknown. 

The 79 Fort Walton Beach cases were far and away the most of any high school in the state, according to the Department of Health. The school with the second most cases, Duncan U. Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, had 57.

Students walk down a hallway at Fort Walton Beach High School.

The majority of positive cases at both Fort Walton Beach and Choctawhatchee showed up during the middle of October. As of Oct. 18, Fort Walton Beach had confirmed 41 cases and Choctaw 37. In the same time period, Okaloosa County's other two high schools, Niceville and Crestview, reported 18 and 13 cases respectively.

"In week six and seven of the school year, an outbreak of COVID19 occurred at Fort Walton Beach High School. There were 39 cases in 14 days," Dr. Karen Chapman, the head of the Okaloosa County branch of the Florida Health Department, wrote in a weekly report sent out Oct. 27.

Just over half of the students and all of the teachers who caught COVID-19 when the outbreak occurred "had an association with a team (sports) activity," Chapman reported.

The pace of infection has dropped significantly at Fort Walton Beach High since the outbreak. An Okaloosa County School District website shows the school had less than five cases between Oct. 26 and Nov. 8 and the state list shows two students being infected between Nov. 8 and 14.

Choctawhatchee High School also reported less than five positive COVID-19 cases between Oct. 26 and Nov. 8 and two cases between Nov. 8 and 14, Department of Health numbers showed.

"Both (Fort Walton Beach and Choctaw) had a period where cases spiked," said Okaloosa County School District spokesman Steve Horton. "Thorough contact tracing at the direction of the Department of Health and maintaining social distancing as much as possible in the school setting has helped bring numbers back down. We encourage students, families and employees to be vigilant over the Thanksgiving break."

The schools with the highest case counts through Nov. 14:

Fort Walton Beach High School: 79

Duncan U. Fletcher High School (Neptune Beach): 57

Pace High School: 52

Baker County Senior High School (Glen St. Mary): 45

Allen D. Nease Senior High School (Ponte Vedra): 43

Choctawhatchee Senior High School (Fort Walton Beach): 43

Vero Beach High School: 40

Hardee Senior High School (Wachula): 39

Wiregrass Ranch High School (Wesley Chapel): 36

Fort Myers High School: 34