In a letter to students, parents and staff on Wednesday evening, Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent George Arlotto reiterated that the system intends to reopen in person as planned when students return to classes from winter break on Monday, despite rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
“The best way to help our students continue their comeback from disrupted instruction is to have them in our classrooms in front of our amazing teachers and staff every day, and we are doing everything we can to maintain that course,” Arlotto wrote.
Ahead of the holiday break, Maryland had listed outbreaks of COVID-19 at more than 50 public schools in Anne Arundel County. There are 810 students in Anne Arundel Public Schools with COVID-19 and 49 staff members as of Wednesday, according to the school system’s COVID-19 dashboard.
There also are 2,483 students and 75 staff members listed as in quarantine under the school system’s policy of quarantining unvaccinated individuals who have been identified as close contacts of a person with COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
Last week, schools spokesperson Bob Mosier said buildings would be closed to students and staff during the break and custodians were using electrostatic sprayers to clean classrooms.
“At the outset of 2022, our goal remains exactly what it was in the fall: to successfully keep schools open for in-person learning five days per week through the end of the school year,” Arlotto wrote in the letter.
Arlotto’s announcement also comes as Maryland broke its record for new coronavirus cases reported in 24 hours for the fourth time this month, with 10,873 new infections recorded Wednesday. According to the Maryland Department of Health, there were more patients hospitalized with the coronavirus Wednesday, 2,046, than at any other point during the pandemic.
In accordance with new guidance from the Anne Arundel County Health Department and to align with the most recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Arlotto said the school system will alter its quarantine guidelines. Staff and students who test positive for COVID-19 will need to quarantine for five days and must be symptom-free before returning to school buildings.
Arlotto also said the health department will be changing the way it determines outbreaks. In school settings, a classroom or cohort outbreak is now defined as three or more laboratory-confirmed positive cases in a 14-day period. In middle and high schools, laboratory-confirmed positive cases in 5% of the total number of students and staff in a given school in a 14-day period will be an additional threshold for a schoolwide outbreak.
If those thresholds are met, it may lead to further action by the health department, Arlotto wrote, which could include quarantines or classroom, grade level or team shutdowns.
“Please continue to practice grace, patience and flexibility. The months ahead will have their share of challenges. I remain steadfast in my belief that together we can navigate them successfully,” Arlotto wrote in closing his letter.