Two staff members at a private school in Montgomery County, Maryland, tested positive for coronavirus, furthering the county’s frustrations with what they say is a lack of guidance from the state on how to handle these situations.
The Bullis School in Potomac confirmed with state health officials on Wednesday that two of its staff members had tested positive for the virus on Monday. But reports of the positive test results circulated on social media, which is where county health officials first learned of it.
“We were made aware of a social media conversation around it. And so we are looking into it to provide more information,” Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said.
The Bullis School said they immediately reached out to everyone who had been in contact with the faculty members at the school and instructed them to quarantine based on the school’s own, internally-developed health guidelines, and then reported the cases to county health officials.
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“On Monday, two non-academic staff members tested positive for COVID-19. In response to the positive tests, we followed our procedures and the staff members self-quarantined,” the school said in a statement to WTOP.
“Our track and tracing team immediately informed those in the Bullis community who may have had contact with the staff members; those individuals are now self-quarantined.”
The infections did not pose an immediate risk to a students, as Bullis School’s semester does not begin until Sept. 1, according to their calendar.
The issue of how to handle potential outbreaks in nonpublic schools amid the pandemic put the county at odds with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month, after Gayles ordered all nonpublic schools in the county to remain closed until Oct. 1.
Hogan then issued an order stripping local health officers’ power to make blanket closures to any schools. Health officials can still close schools on a case-by-case basis under the order.
The Maryland health secretary then said in a memo that the state’s position was to allow individual schools to come up with plans to reopen and operate safely.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said they are still waiting for the state to provide more guidance over how to react to outbreaks in nonpublic schools.
“We’ve still not received any guidance from the state regarding nonpublic schools,” Elrich said. “And I want to emphasize when the governor said that they didn’t want the county acting, or regulating this on our own, they said that schools needed to follow CDC guidance and the state guidance.”
But Elrich said the state has not provided clear answers since then.
“There is no state guidance, which as you can imagine, will make it very difficult for us to evaluate plans in light of state guidance if the state doesn’t provide the guidance,” he said.
Still, Gayles said if a nonpublic school or child care facility has a serious outbreak of the virus, the county will act on its authority to close it down if need be.
“We will take whatever necessary action we need to take from a public health perspective to mitigate further transmission and public health risk as allowed through the state regulations and state laws that are in place,” Gayles said.
He urged community members to come forward immediately if they have information about a potential outbreak in their area.
“Folks who have information or concerns or hearing these things in the community — we would implore you to call our disease control line at 240-777-1755 so that we can get that information as quickly as we can and put the necessary precautionary measures in place,” Gayles said.
Montgomery County Public Schools made the decision to go entirely virtual for their fall semester.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Bullis School does not begin its semester until Sept. 1.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.