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Carroll County health officer questions whether state quarantining guidance for school systems is too onerous

Carroll County Public Schools are having a difficult time with the stringent state protocols for potential COVID-19 cases, according to the county health officer.

Ed Singer, health officer for Carroll, told the county commissioners during their Thursday meeting that Maryland’s guidelines on how to address close contacts of people with coronavirus symptoms within school systems are more restrictive than CDC guidelines.

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“If we have somebody that has ... two symptoms related to COVID, the Department of Health and the Department of Education have put out a policy that we’re supposed to consider those just like anybody else who has actually tested positive for COVID,” Singer said during the meeting. “It’s making things very difficult on the school system operationally. This is different from anywhere else in the country that I’m aware of.”

When a person within the school system shows two or more symptoms of COVID-19, they are sent to the nurse’s office and later sent home. But before that person has tested positive or negative for the virus, the close contacts are told to quarantine for 14 days. Singer said the policy only applies to the school system and not the general public.

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“Are we quarantining too many kids because of this protocol?” Singer asked in an interview.

He said the majority of those who are consider persons under investigation, or PUIs, probably will not test positive for the virus. He asked if it was worth allowing all those students missing two weeks of school.

“It’s causing frustration with a lot of parents,” Singer said.

The health officer said he regularly speaks with the superintendent about the guidelines and makes sure they are keeping students and teachers safe. But they also have to make sure protocols do not prevent them from running the school system effectively.

He also mentioned the school system’s special education department struggles with social distancing and it’s a population that needs in-person learning the most. When a person within the special education department becomes a PUI, the close contact list could become long.

“It’s a very protective measure,” he said. “But is it overly protective? I’m not saying it’s a bad policy but it needs more discussion.”

Singer added the policy is being discussed on the state level.

The health officer also told county commissioners there have been no outbreaks or evidence of transmission within the school system since hybrid learning began on Oct. 19. He confirmed cases at the school system have been identified.

“I remain adamant that I think in the interest of being as transparent as we can, we’ve got to get some numbers out in whatever manner you’re coming up with,” Commissioners President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1 said. “So the citizens know what’s happening in our school system. That’s critically important.”

He added that communication and transparency is how the county will get through the pandemic.

Despite initial hesitance to provide public data, Singer said to commissioners and in an interview the health department and school system will provide COVID-19 aggregate data within the schools to the community. He was expecting to provide numbers to commissioners on Thursday but that would be delayed, he said during the meeting.

Singer told the Times he is not yet sure what the data report will look like or where it will be located but it most likely will not identify which school the student attends for privacy reasons.

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“We want to be as transparent as we can,” he said.

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