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Two Carroll high schools offer COVID testing for students, staff; allergy season cited as possible cause for symptom uptick

The concession stands at Westminster and South Carroll high schools are being used as COVID-19 testing sites.

Karl Streaker, director of student services at Carroll County Public Schools, said a testing task force created by the state has developed a program that gives free tests to school systems for the remainder of the school year. The school system has been participating in the pilot program for the past two weeks and has conducted more than 100 PCR and rapid tests, according to Streaker. He said they recently shared the opportunity with all the schools in the system.

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“We are hoping to open two other regional sites pending our ability to secure staffing,” he said in an email.

At a past board of education meeting, school officials said having its own testing site could help quickly identify and clear those who may have symptoms but do not have the virus. Mitigation protocols have sent many students and staff home to quarantine or isolate after being identified as a close contact. That has caused issues with staffing, shut down sports teams and forced some students to learn from home for long periods of time.

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With the new testing sites, symptomatic students and staff who are identified as close contacts are referred to the site by a school nurse and members of the employee health team. After a test is given, they can wait for their result. Testing is voluntary and students need parent permission. Streaker said they are hopeful parents will access the program to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The number of cases and people with symptoms inside the school buildings has increased in the past week, according the school system’s data dashboard. Streaker said he couldn’t definitively say what caused the uptick but noted allergies and a larger in-school population could be factors.

The COVID-19 dashboard the school system updates every week showed 82 people who attend in-person learning have the virus, a 30% increase from the numbers posted last week. It also showed 223 people had virus-like symptoms, which is a 65% jump from the numbers posted last week.

“We do recognize that it is allergy season and that allergy symptoms mirror some of the COVID-19 symptoms,” Streaker said in an email.

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He added it’s important to note that cases on the dashboard include all active cases for staff and students and some cases remain active for longer periods of time and others for only one week.

“The dashboard is not representative of how many staff and students have tested positive in a given week,” he said.

The school system began allowing students to attend schools in person at least four days a week last month. More elementary students returned for four-day-a-week in-person learning March 15 and secondary students retuned March 22.

“We believe this is also contributing to the increase in cases on the dashboard,” he said.

As the number of cases in the community rise, so do the number of people who received the vaccine. It was last reported that almost all school staff members who want the vaccine have received it. One of the latest educators to receive one was Tara Battaglia, member of the board of education. She livestreamed the experience on her Facebook page.

She said her work allowed her to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the reason she made the video was to “stop any rumors of those who said the board of ed members got it before anyone else.”

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