Frederick County Public Schools said Tuesday a pair of coronavirus cases at Tuscarora High School met the state criteria for an outbreak, making it the school system's first of the 2021-2022 school year.
According to the Maryland Department of Health, two or more confirmed cases among students or staff who are epidemiologically linked — but who don’t share a household — constitute a “classroom/cohort outbreak.”
“Frederick County currently has a high rate of community transmission, so we already have significant community spread here,” county health department spokeswoman Rissah Watkins wrote in an email to the News-Post. “While there is an epidemiologic link between the cases at Tuscarora High School, it does not necessarily mean that transmission occurred in school. It could still reflect general community spread rather than spread within the school community.”
Students returned to classes last Wednesday. On Monday, FCPS confirmed 28 students and 13 staff members tested positive for the virus last week. The school system did not provide data on how many students were in quarantine.
Board of Education member Brad Young said he wasn’t surprised by the news of the outbreak.
“I think it’s expected when you have that many people together in buildings,” Young said. “It’s going to be a nonstop event anywhere and everywhere.”
Board member Liz Barrett said she wasn’t expecting a school to cross the outbreak threshold quite so soon. But like Young, she acknowledged outbreaks and quarantines were a price the district would inevitably have to pay in order to get kids back in classrooms.
Barrett said she was concerned, however, about FCPS’ plans for keeping kids engaged during their 10-day quarantine period and its communication with families about quarantine plans.
In an email sent to Tuscarora families, Principal Christopher Berry wrote that close contacts of both positive individuals at the school had been directed to quarantine. The school isn’t planning to stop in-person instruction at this time, he added.
Frederick County is faring worse than the state as the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads.
On Monday, the county reported a rolling weekly average positivity rate of 6.73 percent, significantly higher than the statewide average of 4.89 percent. The county’s case rate per 100,000 people was higher than the state’s, too: Frederick’s figure stood at 22.46, while Maryland’s stood at 16.94.
Though masks are mandatory throughout FCPS this year, more than 98 percent of its 44,000 students are back in school buildings full-time. When students returned for hybrid learning last spring, they did so in much smaller numbers — allowing for physical distancing that’s no longer possible in most buildings.
According to state health department data, 18 FCPS schools experienced at least one confirmed coronavirus outbreak during the 2020-21 school year.
“As many parents know, it’s not unusual for kids to get sick a few days after they start school since there are opportunities for students to be exposed to more people and therefore more respiratory viruses and other germs,” Watkins wrote. “We also know that the virus is widespread in our community already, so we expect cases to rise when people have more interactions, such as the start of school or large family or social gatherings.
“Parents should continue to have a high level of caution because the virus is widespread in our community right now,” Watkins added.