Forty-one Frederick County Public Schools staff and students reported positive coronavirus cases to the school system’s health services office last week, according to FCPS’ updated health metrics dashboard.
The school system became the first in the state to resume operations for the fall semester last Wednesday, welcoming back nearly 44,000 students. Within three days, 13 staff members and 28 students had tested positive, according to the dashboard, which is updated weekly.
However, FCPS spokesman Brandon Oland said Monday afternoon the school system remains free of coronavirus outbreaks. As defined by the state’s health department, “classroom/cohort” outbreaks are when two or more positive cases are identified within two weeks of each other among people who were in contact with one another at school but don’t share a household. “School-wide” outbreaks are when 5 percent or more students and staff test positive for the virus within a 14-day period, or when there are three or more classrooms or cohorts that meet the state’s definition.
Though Oland said the school system wishes there were no cases to report, he noted that officials haven’t been surprised by the numbers so far, especially considering the level of virus circulation in the surrounding community. Frederick County has been considered an area of high coronavirus transmission by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more than a week.
The county tallied 69 new cases on Monday and reported a seven-day positivity rate of 7.05 percent — higher than the state’s rate of 4.97 percent.
“We’ve been pretty clear that this was a possibility,” Oland said. “We’re in regular contact with the Frederick County Health Department, and what’s happening right now is pretty consistent with what they’ve been saying for several weeks.”
Oakdale High School reported the most infections last week with four positive cases among students, according to the school system’s dashboard. Oakdale Middle School and Urbana High School each reported three cases among students.
When a student or staff member tests positive, the school system initiates contact tracing to determine who has been within 6 feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or longer. Those identified as “close contacts” will be required to quarantine at home for at least seven to 14 days, unless they are fully vaccinated — or tested positive for the virus in the last 90 days — and remain asymptomatic.
If a student tests positive in an indoor classroom setting, students who stayed at least 3 feet away from them wouldn’t be required to quarantine under CDC guidelines if both students were wearing well-fitting masks and if the school had implemented other prevention strategies such as physical distancing and increased ventilation. This exception doesn’t apply to teachers, staff members or other adults in indoor classroom settings, according to the CDC.
Currently, the school system doesn’t share information on the number of students and staff members who are in quarantine on its health metrics dashboard, though Oland said on Friday it would take a “hard look” at changing this. A “small number” of students and staff across FCPS were told to quarantine last week due to coronavirus exposure, Oland said.
Besides implementing quarantine procedures, FCPS has also mandated face coverings in school buildings and enhanced ventilation and cleaning protocols in its facilities. Schools have asked families to keep their children home if they are feeling sick or exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.
Ultimately, Oland said, FCPS wants to do the best it can for students and provide the in-person learning they so desperately need.
“We’re definitely doing all we can,” he said, “but the unfortunate reality is that we’re still in a pandemic.”