Jan. 7 – Coinciding with a spike in coronavirus infections both in the county and across the country, Frederick County Public Schools recorded 855 new positive cases between Sunday and Tuesday this week – a number that eclipses any weekly tally reported so far this school year.
In the full week of December 13 – the last week students were in school before the winter break – the school system recorded 377 new positive cases. This is the highest case total the FCPS has seen through the middle of this week, when there were still three school days left. The pupils returned to school on Monday after a two-week holiday.
Between Sunday and Tuesday, the school system reported 84 additional cases among staff and 771 among students. During the week that began on December 13, FCPS recorded 46 more staff cases and 331 more student cases.
On Tuesday, Urbana High School had the highest number of cases this week, with seven staff members and 58 students reporting positive cases. Next is Oakdale High School with 47 new cases and Frederick High School, which reported 42 new cases on Tuesday.
The rapid increase in infections in the school system follows recent increases in cases and hospitalizations in Frederick County. Local positivity levels were 32.48% Wednesday and Frederick Health was reporting 97 hospitalizations from the virus as of 12 p.m.
The sharp rise in cases this week at FCPS also comes as the school system eased quarantine rules for vaccinated staff members in accordance with updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, vaccinated and boosted staff will not have to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact with a positive case, and staff who have been vaccinated but not boosted will only need to self-quarantine. quarantine only for five days. They will be required to mask up in all work environments for an additional five days.
Vaccinated staff who test positive will be allowed to return to school once five days have passed since their symptoms first appeared or – for those who are asymptomatic – from the time they received a positive test, they have been fever-free for 24 hours and their symptoms are constantly improving.
Quarantine and isolation policies remain unchanged for students. Unvaccinated staff members who test positive will continue to be required to self-isolate for 10 days and those exposed to the virus will continue to be quarantined for 10 days. They will be allowed to return on day eight of their quarantine if they test negative after day five.
Eric Louérs-Phillips, executive director of the FCPS public affairs office, was unavailable to answer questions Thursday about the number of students and staff currently in quarantine and isolation.
In an interview Tuesday, Missy Dirks, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association, said the union agrees with the school system’s decision to use a hybrid model only for long-term education, given the difficulty for staff members to simultaneously teach online. and students in person.
Still, she worried about the county’s high positivity rate, especially since the school system is already understaffed. FCPS lacks custodial staff members, Dirks said, which prevents them from keeping up with the deep cleaning and disinfection of school facilities. There were also hundreds of unfilled locum positions open on Tuesday, she said, adding that she now knows more educators with breakthrough virus cases than she has for the entire pandemic combined. .
“There is definitely an increased level of anxiety about being back face to face,” she said. “Everyone agrees that face-to-face is best, in ideal circumstances, but those are not ideal circumstances.”
FCPS shares how it will make virtual learning decisions
The school system shared more information Thursday afternoon about the metrics it will use to decide if a temporary shift from in-person learning to virtual instruction is necessary.
Consistent with findings from health experts and the state Department of Education on the importance of in-person learning for students, FCPS said it will continue to prioritize this type of learning. teaching and to maintain any potential changes online in the short term – a period of five to seven days.
The school system has told students and parents that it is working with the Frederick County Health Department to make the decision to convene a Central Review Team meeting whenever the average weekly attendance rate for students reaches 89% or less and/or that there are seven – rolling average rate of positive cases per day among staff above 5%.
The central review team includes staff from FCPS and the health department, who will assess current conditions at a school and the potential need for learning at the facility to temporarily move online, the school system said in its Thursday update.
In addition to the 89% and 5% data points, the school system will also consider:
—Pattern of attendance in the last five days
—Prevalence of major student attendance codes
—Number of households registered
—Positive case rates for students over seven days
—Current percentage of staff requesting vacation and sick leave
—Current percentage of leave requiring replacements
—School coverage plans; central deployment requests
—Other vacancies: food and nutrition services and transportation
—Community transmission rate and vaccination levels in catchment area
—Current trend of acute care and intensive care beds
—Whether school-based transmission is a concern for local health officials, based on contact tracing
According to Thursday’s School System update, FCPS can designate virtual instruction for an entire school, grade level, or cohort of students. Schools will work with students and families to ensure they have access to online education, the update read.
“We know that current community conditions foster anxiety and uncertainty,” the update read. “Know that we are committed to keeping our community informed as we navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to meet regularly with our FCHD partners and adjust our practices as circumstances change.”
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