With COVID-19 infections easing off as vaccination rates rise among students, Maryland state education leaders are considering re-evaluating current guidelines on mask mandates and quarantine policies.
“Higher vaccination rates mean lower levels of transmission and lower case rates,” said Mohammed Choudhury, the state superintendent in Maryland, at Tuesday’s state school board meeting.
“The trend we’re seeing is vaccination plus all the layered strategies … all of those things are coming together. But vaccination is king and the science and the research and so that’s having an impact on how things are playing out. It’s there in the numbers.”
It also means the state is eyeing changes to quarantining policies which keep kids out of classrooms for two weeks if an unvaccinated child is determined to have had close contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.
Choudhury noted that Carroll and Howard counties recently relaxed their school quarantine procedures, with Carroll implementing a new policy that does not require students with possible exposure to stay home if they’re asymptomatic.
For now, the rest of Maryland’s public school districts still require a 14-day quarantine period. While Choudhury says education officials are having discussions with the Maryland Department of Health on potentially easing the state-level quarantining guidelines, he added, “we’re just not there yet.”
A statewide mask mandate for students has been in place since a mid-September emergency order, although most school systems had already implemented their own. Choudhury said that’s played a role in reducing infections and outbreaks among students.
Under the order, the mask mandate can stay in effect for 180 days since its implementation, but board members will reassess the need to keep it at their December meeting.
“I think we’re approaching a point where we just need to sort of see where we are,” said board president Clarence Crawford.
“At our December meeting, we will have had about three months of experience … hopefully there will be more clarity about vaccination rates and there will be more information out there about how we should proceed.”
Crawford made clear the decision would be influenced by science and up-to-date data on where things are around the schools, and that there was no guarantee the masking mandate would be modified or changed.
“But let’s take the time, we’ll have about three months worth of experience,” he said.