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COVID-19 outbreaks reported at three Carroll County elementary schools, few impacted

Three COVID-19 outbreaks were reported within Carroll County Public Schools on Thursday.

Parr’s Ridge, Runnymede and William Winchester elementary schools each had one person with COVID-19 transmit it to another person at the school. All who were impacted were notified, according to the school system.

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“I think it’s important for the public to understand what an outbreak is,” Karl Streaker, director of students services, said.

He emphasized that this was not a situation where half the school was infected. And an outbreak merely means one person gave the virus to another person. He added later he could not specify whether those who tested positive at the three schools were students or teachers due to privacy reasons.

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Streaker also noted the school does not do the contact tracing but provides a list of potential close contacts to the health department.

Maggie Kunz, health planner for the county health department, clarified that only two tested positive for the virus at each school.

The health department was recently overwhelmed with contact tracing but Kunz said it has calmed down a little since contact tracing numbers have gone down.

“It continues to be overwhelming, but it’s manageable,” she said, adding that they were able to find more help.

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The system’s coronavirus data dashboard, which began updating again every Wednesday after CCPS returned to hybrid learning on Jan. 7, shows 38 staffers and 74 students tested positive for the virus between this week and last. During the same time frame, 32 staff members and 124 students had symptoms.

Despite the case numbers, few outbreaks have been reported since the fall. The reported outbreaks, where only a few were infected, had resulted in special education programs to shutdown. However, in-school transmissions remain uncommon.

When the board voted to return to in-person learning during the first week of January, members often cited failing grades and lack of in-school spread for reasons to do so.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R, and Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, cited similar reasons for students to return to the classroom. Hogan said on Thursday all Maryland school systems should have a plan to return students by March 1.

“Many of the points that Governor Hogan and Dr. Salmon made echoed exactly what the Carroll County BOE has been saying now for many months,” Board President Marsha Herbert said in a statement. “As a Board, we remain steadfast in our commitment to get as many students as we can into the classroom as soon as possible, while moving forward with purpose and care.”

She said the board will continue to work with CCPS leadership to develop plans that would allow more students to participate in in-person learning and work with the health department to continue vaccinations for staff.

At the last school board meeting, parents thanked the board for returning students to the classrooms, but some teachers spoke against the vote citing concerns for their health.

The system has faced staffing challenges due to Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations and staff who are following quarantine and isolation protocols. Staff who work in central office have been asked to substitute or monitor classrooms.

Herbert said she has substituted at Manchester Elementary School and board member Donna Sivigny said her husband has signed up to substitute as well.

During Thursday’s news conference, Hogan said he would pursue “every legal avenue” if school systems do not immediately begin bringing students back. He also referenced districts around the country that have cut off pay and pulled licenses of teachers who refuse to return.

“Morale is already low and to point fingers and threaten educators who are working harder than ever is insulting and unnecessary,” Teresa McCulloh, president of Carroll County Education Association, said in an email. “The focus should continue to remain on health and safety measures including providing vaccinations to our employees as soon as possible.”

Superintendent Steve Lockard said the school system continues to be appreciative of its employees.

“We understand when our employees have concerns and know that some of the related uncertainties in all this can be a challenge,” he said in an email. “We are thrilled that we have already started to get employees vaccinated and know this will serve as another preventative measure for our employees. We continue to be incredibly appreciative of our dedicated employees.”

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