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COVID-19 outbreaks in Baltimore-area schools on the rise; 6% of students at one St. Mary’s County middle school have tested positive

The number of COVID-19 outbreaks in Baltimore-area schools is continuing to rise, according to figures posted by the Maryland Department of Health on Wednesday.

The school with the largest outbreak in the state is Margaret Brent Middle School in St. Mary’s County, which had 61 cases — far more than any other school on the list.

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The Talmudical Academy, a Jewish private school in Baltimore County that teaches prekindergarten through high school students, had the second most outbreak-associated cases with 36.

It was followed closely by Baltimore City’s Friends School, a Quaker private school that also teaches children in pre-K through 12th grade and had 35 cases tied to an outbreak.

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Leonardtown High School in St. Mary’s County and St. Ursula School in Baltimore County rounded out the top five with 35 and 29 cases, respectively, according to the state’s dashboard.

Officials from those schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

By the state’s definition, a school has an outbreak if two students who have interacted at school test positive in a 14-day period, so long as they aren’t from the same household. A school can also appear on the state’s list if it has cases in three different classes or 5% of its population — as long as that number is greater than 10 students who don’t live together.

Tammy Metcalf, supervisor of health services for St. Mary’s County Public Schools, said Margaret Brent Middle has about 1,000 students, meaning about 6% of its students have tested positive as a result of the outbreak. Metcalf couldn’t immediately provide the number of individuals in quarantine at the school.

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The school is staffed by two nurses, Metcalf said, but it does not offer COVID-19 testing in-house. Instead, families are directed to COVID-19 testing sites in the community with help from the health department, she said.

In response to questions about whether the school system is planning to institute onsite testing, Metcalf said her team is “constantly evaluating our processes.”

“In collaboration with our local health department, we will make decisions that meet best practices to mitigate risk,” she said.

In regards to whether officials were considering a temporary closure of the school to slow transmission, Metcalf said the system’s superintendent is in close contact with the county health officer.

The number of outbreaks, as defined by the state health department, increased in every Baltimore-area school system over the past week.

Baltimore County, which has the largest number of public school students in the area, reported 21 outbreaks. Anne Arundel, which has the second highest tally of public school students, reported 18. Two high schools there reported more than 20 cases associated with outbreaks — Chesapeake High School and Northeast High School.

Baltimore City, which isn’t far behind in enrollment, reported five outbreaks, two of which were at private schools.

Carroll County reported nine outbreaks, including one at Northwest Middle School, which closed for several days last week when the outbreak began. The school reopened Friday, but the outbreak is ongoing, according to the state, and 27 people are infected.

In Harford County, nine schools reported outbreaks. Havre de Grace Elementary School had the most cases in the county with six. Howard County reported 15 school outbreaks. Both Hanover Hills Elementary School and Worthington Elementary School had six cases, the most in the county.

So far this year, 4,042 Maryland public school students have tested positive for the virus, and an additional 16,500 children had to quarantine. That means about 2.3% of students in Maryland schools had the first few weeks of their school year disrupted by a positive test or exposure to the virus.

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