The Frederick County school system has made the regrettable but necessary choice to suspend small group instruction and winter sports practices in the face of fast-rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in our community.
The deciding factor: big spikes in the numbers that the school system follows most closely, including counting 186 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours and seeing the rate of positive tests soar to 11.5 percent, almost double the rate of 5.9 percent we saw on Thanksgiving.
As of Tuesday, Frederick County had 12,190 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Fifty-two patients were hospitalized, including six who were in the intensive care unit.
Those kinds of numbers just make it too risky to allow children and staff to return to classrooms for instruction or to gymnasiums for sports practices. The system just cannot take such chances.
It is a shame that this is so. After almost 10 months of battling the disease, everyone was hoping we would be in a much better place by the end of the year. Instead, we seem to be slipping badly, as people have tired of doing the things needed to stay safe.
We had a spike in cases in early December, brought on by unsafe family gatherings over Thanksgiving. The risk-taking only got worse over Christmas and New Year’s. Now, health professionals are steeling themselves for another wave on top on the current wave.
If the predictions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others are correct, the next two weeks could be horrendous. Infections could soar even higher, hospitals could be jammed, and morgues could be overflowing with bodies of the dead.
Already, the signs of an apocalyptic trend are turning up. States are opening field hospitals to accommodate the overflow of patients, and in Los Angeles, ambulance drivers have been ordered to only transport people to the hospital who have a good chance of surviving their illness. This is once again feeling like a bad disaster movie.
To begin the process of returning schools to normal operation during such a time would be irresponsible.
Schools Superintendent Terry Alban and County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer have been watching the metrics in growing horror since Dec. 29.
“We talked about the post-holiday surge from Thanksgiving that hit a peak on Dec. 11. If we saw a similar surge after Christmas and New Year, it could be worse because our numbers were already so high,” Alban said in an email to News-Post reporter Katryna Perera.
“We talked about the potential impact this could have on small groups, sports, and hybrid instruction. We knew we would need to keep monitoring the data. By the end of the week, the numbers were getting worse.”
No one knows where students, teachers and other staff members spent their holiday vacation, nor who they might have come in contact with. No one knows who will be carrying the virus into the classroom or the gym if the schools were to reopen. It is just not a chance worth taking.
We are all so very tired of the COVID-19 battle, but we must continue fighting. We are so close to winning this war and defeating the pandemic. Vaccines are being distributed — 76,916 in Maryland as of Tuesday — and we can see the end coming.
Everyone knows the kids need to get back to school and athletes need to get back to their sports. We are all impatient, but we must hang in there.