After hundreds of Montgomery County students were quarantined in the first two weeks of the new school year, officials say they are removing strict guidelines thanks, in part, to the rollout of a new program COVID-19 rapid test.
After hundreds of students in Montgomery County, Md., Were quarantined due to potential exposure to the coronavirus during the first two weeks of the new school year, officials say they are removing the Strict quarantine guidelines, in part thanks to the rollout of a new rapid COVID-19 testing program.
According to new guidelines, announced at a Montgomery County Council briefing on Tuesday, public school students who show possible symptoms of coronavirus at school will receive a rapid COVID-19 test and only those who test positive and their close contacts will be sent home. Using rapid tests requires parental consent, but it can now be given over the phone, officials said.
Previous county quarantine guidelines required students who showed possible symptoms of coronavirus – as well as all their close contacts – to self-quarantine while awaiting the results of standard COVID-19 tests, which has led, in some cases, to sending entire classes home – and also triggered backlash from some parents as being too restrictive and disruptive.
The rapid tests are part of a five-part plan announced by Acting Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight this week after a difficult start to the school year. The plan also includes the hiring of a special health worker for the school system.
McKnight and a host of other school system officials appeared at the briefing, as did Dr Raymond Crowel, head of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Overall, in the first two weeks of school, 121 MCPS students tested positive for COVID-19 out of approximately 160,000 students in total. However, more than 1,700 students were placed in quarantine at one point due to previous strict county guidelines, which were stricter than state guidelines.
Under the new policy, “in the majority of situations determined by our school health professionals and the Department of Health, close contacts of symptomatic students will no longer be required to self-quarantine unless they do so. there is a confirmed positive test or known exposure, ”said Heather Dublinske, School System Coordinator for Student Welfare and Compliance.
Schools started using rapid tests on Monday, and they’re already helping students avoid unnecessary quarantines, officials said.
For example, at a school on Monday, six students who started showing possible symptoms were tested on the spot. All have tested negative – preventing more than 100 other students from self-quarantine.
Council members applauded the pivot.
“Obviously, 2,000 students quarantined in a week and entire classes of out-of-school children is a terrible result – something we should do everything in our power to avoid,” the member said. council Andrew Friedson, who represents District 1. “And it looks like these new protocols that have been outlined today are an important step in a better direction.
” We struggle “
However, council lawmakers also posed tough questions to school officials and county health officials for what was seen as a flat approach to the start of the school year.
In an exchange, Board Chairman Tom Hucker asked Crowel and school officials why rapid tests weren’t available on the first day of school, when the state of Maryland issued guidelines on rapid tests in schools on June 30.
“We were in a very different place than the second week of August,” McKnight replied, pointing to the drop in COVID rates in the county in early summer. “COVID-19 transmission rates were dropping in the county. We also weren’t going through all parts of the delta variant. And so when the June 30 advice came out, then we were in a very different place. “
Hucker replied, “It sounds a bit to a lot of people’s ears that there has been some complacency over the summer and [officials were] not focusing on preparing for the school year as early as possible and for the worst possible scenario.
Crowel, the county health department chief, said, “I’m not in a space where I can guess at this problem at this point. We are now in the business of “Let’s try to solve the problem, try to solve the problems that lie ahead and move forward.” “
But he assured the board: “We are not sitting on our laurels, lounging in the summer.”
Yet even with the rollout of the new rapid test program, officials said they expected bumps in the road.
“The reality is that we are struggling… in our school health rooms to effectively add rapid tests this week,” said Earl Stoddard, deputy county administrative director. “And so this week will be bumpy.”
He said schools will likely need to bring in additional contract staff to help run the school testing process.
There are already many vacancies in the ranks of school nurses.
“We’ve had nurses who were functionally in tears, because of this added responsibility on their plates,” Stoddard said of the rapid test program.
Nurses should assess students before administering tests and wear the appropriate protective equipment for each test, he explained.
“It’s an additional responsibility that they’re going to find very difficult,” Stoddard said. “We’re going to do it because we recognize it’s important. But I think this is an incorrect assumption… that it is a trivial matter to implement.
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