Montgomery Co. schools to begin COVID-19 ‘test-to-stay’ pilot next week

After backtracking on the start of a program designed to reduce student quarantines, the public school system in Montgomery County, Maryland, says its “test-to-stay” pilot will begin next week.

Montgomery County Public Schools conceived its “test-to-stay” program to allow students who are exposed to COVID-19 infection but not showing symptoms to avoid quarantine and remain in school. Part of the requirement is that students who have been exposed to the virus must submit to daily testing to confirm they are not infected.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Earl Stoddard said the county had been notified by state health and education officials earlier this month. They had concerns about allowing children who were unmasked at the time of a potential COVID-19 exposure to take part in the program.

However, after “very productive” discussions this week, the school system got the green light to go ahead with the pilot program, Stoddard said, which will begin with a “handful” of schools.

“We are going to focus right now on the lunchroom exposures, which are the biggest chunk” of exposure cases in the school system, he said.

Under the program, students exposed to the coronavirus while unmasked at lunch can stay in school, rather than enter quarantine.

“As long as they continue to test negative for five days… they’ll do rapid tests in the morning when they arrive” Stoddard said. “If they continue to test negative, they can continue to stay in school”

Still, Stoddard said “not every opportunity that is an unmasked exposure will qualify for test to stay.”

If students are exposed to COVID-19 during indoor activities with “forced exhalation”, like singing and exercising, they would not qualify for “test-to-stay”. Those exposed students would still have to quarantine.

Stoddard said county and school officials are optimistic the pilot could be useful in helping children avoid quarantine, while also keeping them safe. Recently, Montgomery County schools updated its guidance for coronavirus-related quarantine for students throughout the school system.

“We want to make sure it works,” he said. “We want to do some data collection. That should give the state some confidence” that the program presents little or no-risk, and could be expanded.

In a message sent from the school system to parents, Montgomery County school officials said the Maryland Department of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services and the school system itself “will review the data throughout this launch to ensure the program is safe and effective.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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