Montgomery Co. schools to receive rapid COVID tests in bid to reduce quarantines

Montgomery County schools will soon begin administering rapid-result COVID-19 tests to students who exhibit possible symptoms in an effort to avoid excessive quarantines.

The school district — Maryland’s largest — made the announcement Wednesday, less than a week after releasing new, stricter quarantine guidelines for unvaccinated students.

The updated guidelines sparked widespread concern among parents that large numbers of students, particularly those in elementary schools who are not yet eligible for vaccines, would be forced out of in-person classes unnecessarily.

The school system’s new guidelines require students who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms to quarantine — as well as any other students with whom they had close contact — even if they haven’t yet tested positive for the coronavirus. State guidance, on the other hand, only requires students who had close contact with a confirmed positive case to quarantine.

“The use of these tests, in conjunction with the other safety measures we have in place, will hopefully help us keep more students in school,” interim Superintendent of Schools Monifa B. McKnight said Wednesday in a letter to the community.

“We will be receiving further guidance from (the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services) on the implementation of this rapid testing program and will provide information to you as quickly as possible.”

Nearly 800 students last week were sent into quarantine at home after possible exposure to the virus. County health officer Travis Gayles said Wednesday that the county follows guidance from the Maryland Department of Health and Department of Education.

Gayles said 199 students are still in quarantine after a positive test result from a close contact; the remaining students have since returned to classrooms.

The Montgomery County School Board will meet Thursday and plans to discuss how the reopening of schools has gone so far, as well as contingency plans if the spread of the coronavirus forces schools to close again.

Public comment begins at noon.

Carrie Shokraei

Carrie is a writer and reporter for WTOP. She’s been in the news business for more than 20 years, starting out her career in small market TV as a reporter and anchor.

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