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Education

Anne Arundel health officer recommends masking in schools that have 5% COVID positivity rate, doesn’t issue a mandate

With COVID-19 rates rising, Anne Arundel schools Superintendent George Arlotto has announced that the system will ask students and staff to mask at schools where at least 5% of the population has tested positive for the virus.

It isn’t a mandate, but a request, made in an effort to minimize the risk of outbreaks in classes as the end of the school year is weeks away, school officials say.

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Under the guidance, students and staff at schools where positivity exceeds 5% would be asked to wear masks indoors for 10 calendar days, with day one being the day after the 5% threshold is reached.

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Students and staff would be given two at-home tests for COVID per person and would be asked to test on day one and day three. Students and staff who test positive, or who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, must stay home, according to a AACPS news release.

On Feb. 16 the Board of Education voted to make masking optional in schools, a motion made by District 3 Board Member Corine Frank. Because Arlotto is just asking, and not requiring students to wear a mask, masking will still be optional in schools, in line with the board’s action.

Arlotto said the Anne Arundel County Department of Health suggested asking students to mask when cases exceed 5% of the school population after studying cases in schools.

“The 5% threshold will be a launching point into deeper, more granular examination of the data, including whether the cases are concentrated or widespread,” Arlotto said.

Arlotto said county Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman suggested the strategy, which he supports, in the interest of keeping as many students in schools as possible.

“While there may be case-specific exceptions to the guidance, the strategies also could avoid more widespread actions such as classrooms and grade levels switching to virtual learning as the result of an outbreak,” the system said in its press release.

The recommendations are being made only for schools where the positivity rate exceeds 5%. As of May 18, there were 361 students and 83 staff members in AACPS with COVID-19, according to the school system’s COVID dashboard website. The system reported the most cases at Piney Orchard Elementary School on Wednesday, 27 among students and four among staff members.

There are more than 800 students at Piney Orchard, and nearly 80 staff members, according to the school’s website. That means at least 44 people would need to test positive to hit the threshold described by the school system.

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Of the parents who spoke during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s school board meeting, some worried that the mask mandate would return while others expressed that there should be a protocol establishing when masking should return.

“I think if we put this back into effect, the morale is going to go way down,” Bonnie Fitzpatrick of Pasadena said. “It is amazing what unmasking our children has done.”

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She said she volunteers at her child’s school and noticed a difference in attitude when the mask mandate was lifted this February. She doesn’t want to go back to mandated masking.

Kristen Caminiti of Crofton said she was grateful that Arlotto and Kalyanaraman have come to the board with ideas for how to address the increase in COVID-19 cases. She said she would like the system to establish a case rate threshold after which mask mandates would go back into effect.

“No matter how much we want this pandemic to be over, it isn’t,” she said.

Some parents were frustrated that the item about masks in schools was added to the meeting’s agenda the day before the meeting. The board allows 10 speakers for public comment each meeting, a change made in recent years to improve the efficiency of the body. The board accepts unlimited written comments.

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Kerry Gillespie of Arnold didn’t get one of the limited speaker spots, but came to the meeting anyway.

“The last thing that should be limited is the right of an American citizen to address our elected officials,” she said.

She said she thinks parents should have the final say in health decisions such as wearing a mask, as they know what is best for their children.


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