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Maryland begins reporting coronavirus cases in schools

Maryland has begun reporting coronavirus cases at individual schools after pressure from advocates and legislators who saw transparency in reporting data as a key to successfully reopening schools.

The first data, which appeared without a public announcement late last week, show about 50 cases in schools as of Thursday. The majority of cases appeared in public schools in small counties on the Eastern Shore, including Caroline, Somerset and Worcester. Caroline County had one school with 12 cases.

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Private and parochial schools — many of which reopened for in-person classes before public schools — represented a significant number of the cases.

Archbishop Neale Elementary School in Charles County reported a dozen cases. Three private schools in Baltimore County have reported cases in the past two weeks, including Emmanuel Lutheran School in Baltimore County with five cases, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School with five cases and Garrison Forrest School with three cases. In Howard County, the Glenelg Country School in Howard County had four cases.

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There were no cases reported in public schools in Baltimore City, Harford or Carroll counties, which all have opened school buildings for small groups of students. Baltimore County public schools had no cases because no school buildings were open for in-person classes. Howard County had two cases at Manor Woods Elementary.

The state health department added the breakdown of cases in schools after superintendents and health officers agreed on what information could be released and how to define an outbreak at a school, according to Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan.

Local school superintendents met with the Maryland Department of Education twice before the site went live, said Kelly Griffith, the head of the association representing the 24 superintendents.

“We had a productive dialogue about what was being published and the need for consistent definitions and uniform statistics for our communities,” said Griffith, adding that many school systems already had launched similar dashboards.

Teachers unions had asked the state to publicly report cases by school but said the new data fell short of their expectations.

“It’s better than the utter lack of transparency that existed before, but there is not enough relevant data and clarity in the dashboard to impact decisions concerning the safety and health of educators, students and families,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the MSEA. “We’ve seen successful models that provide more detailed reporting and relevant data, such as in New York. Accurate and usable data are needed to build trust and transparency and give much greater context and specificity about spread."

Schools must report when there are at least two confirmed cases among teachers, students or staff in the building in a two week period that are linked or where cases have occurred in three separate classrooms within two weeks, according to the website. The state health department did not respond to requests to clarify when cases are reported.

Health experts have said publicizing the data could help school districts make more informed decisions about reopening and help researchers understand the role of children and schools in spreading the virus.

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