Health officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Maryland, involving more than a dozen students that has temporarily put the boys’ basketball team’s season on hold.
Since Friday, there have been 14 positive COVID-19 cases among students and one case involving a staff member at the high school, according to a letter sent to parents Monday. The students and staff member were all last at the school either Friday or Saturday, according to the letter.
The letter home to parents says the school is pausing practices and games for its varsity and JV boys basketball program. In addition, the school is closing its early child development programs for preschoolers for the next 10 days as a precaution.
The outbreak was discussed during a Montgomery County Council meeting Tuesday, as council members heard COVID-19 updates from the school system and the county health department.
Officials didn’t identify the school during the discussion but said the outbreak involved a sports team. A school spokesman reached via email provided a copy of the letter to parents.
“Our top priority is making sure that our schools are safe for all students and staff and when we have a situation like this where a number of cases arise in a very short period, it’s critical for us to partner with (the health department) to investigate what is occurring,” said James D’Andrea, chief of staff for Montgomery County Public Schools, during the council meeting.
It’s believed many of the students were vaccinated since school policy required high school athletes who play winter sports to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15 unless they have a medical exemption.
“That’s another piece of the puzzle that we’re investigating because we have required all winter sports athletes to be vaccinated, which was not the case for our fall sports athletes,” D’Andrea said.
Per MCPS Athletics, while masks are required in school buildings, students who are fully vaccinated students are not required to wear face coverings while playing basketball.
The school’s first boys’ basketball game, which was scheduled for Tuesday evening and would have marked the first time in 21 months since winter sports have been played, has been postponed.
Dr. Raymond Crowel, the head of the health department, said the outbreak team is working “to understand the depth of what happened and how broadly it impacts the students.”
Given the large number of cases, he said the county is also seeking the state’s help.
“We have also taken the additional step of asking if the state would consider doing an analysis of the students who tested positive to see whether or not we were looking at anything other than (the delta variant) … given that it was such a tight cluster and that a number of the students were already vaccinated, so this constitutes some breakthroughs. So we just want to be safe and take that extra step to see if there’s a variant issue.”
Maryland reported its first three cases of the omicron variant Friday, all in the Baltimore region. There have been no other cases reported in Maryland.
The school system is planning to host a vaccination clinic at Paint Branch High School. Booster doses and potentially second doses of the vaccine will be available Saturday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the school system will share registration links to make appointments. Given expected demand, the school does not anticipate offering walk-up appointments.
Overall, from the start of the school year through the week of Thanksgiving, the school system has reported a total of 827 COVID-19 cases among students and 209 cases among staff, according to data presented to the council Tuesday.
There are more than 160,000 students and more than 24,000 employees in the school system.
Overall, more than 95% of staff members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Under a vaccine mandate, employees without a religious or medical exemption face discipline.
Just under 700 total employees are either unvaccinated without an exemption or have not provided their status, according to data presented Tuesday.
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