More than 16,500 Maryland students have quarantined since start of school year

More than 16,500 Maryland students and just under 800 staff have had to quarantine from a close contact with a COVID-19 case since the new academic year began, according to data from state education officials released Tuesday.

The Maryland State Board of Education’s first report on reopening logistics and transmission rate also tabulated that over 4,000 students and nearly 700 staff have tested positive for the coronavirus in the month since the start of the school year.

While the number of students with either known infections or in quarantine represents less than 3% of the system’s 882,000 enrollees, the new data offers a closer look at differences in how local schools have addressed vaccinations, testing, distancing requirements, contact tracing and contingency planning for outbreaks among students and educators.

Since the start of the school year, up to Sept. 22, more than 3,000 Prince George’s County students were required to quarantine due to close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case — the most out of Maryland’s 24 local school districts.

Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Howard, Harford and Frederick counties each had more than 1,000 students sent into quarantine. Baltimore City notably only quarantined 220 students, despite being Maryland’s fifth-largest school district and outbreaks in neighboring jurisdictions.

Of the 24 school systems surveyed, 10 regularly screen students and staff for symptoms, 18 conduct COVID-19 testing and 22 carry out contact tracing efforts.

Only two districts required at least 3 feet of physical distancing between students age 12 and older; 21 others strongly recommend it while one regarded the measure merely as “optional.”

Maryland mandated masks in all its public schools last week, though only Carroll County had not required masks from the moment students returned to in-person instruction.

The Baltimore Sun reported Taneytown’s Northwest Middle School returned to all-virtual learning for two days after more than 200 students were quarantined there; as of late September, Carroll County is the state’s only district to close a school due to an outbreak.

All 24 school systems reported to Maryland education officials that they had a strategy in place in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak; 19 said they had posted details of their plans to their websites.

Montgomery and Howard counties currently boast Maryland’s lowest rate of community transmission population-wide, according to data published daily by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Tuesday, local spread in both counties was listed as “substantial,” the third highest of the CDC’s four ratings.

Allegany and Garrett counties, in far Western Maryland near West Virginia, had the state’s highest case rate per 100,000 people in the last week, with relatively high levels of transmission also present across the Eastern Shore.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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