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COVID testing likely to begin in Carroll County schools in March; county to scale back Ag Center testing

As the Carroll County Public Schools is preparing for on-site for COVID-19 testing, the county Health Department is scaling back its testing site for the general public because of a decrease in demand.

Ed Singer, the county’s top-ranking health official, spoke during Thursday morning’s Board of Commissioners meeting about the county schools’ coronavirus testing plan, elaborating on a point that was discussed at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Board of Education.

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Cindy McCabe, chief of schools, told the school board on Wednesday that CCPS will soon implement COVID-19 testing for students and staff. Superintendent Steve Lockard said they are looking at offering rapid and PCR tests at regional schools, so if a person shows symptoms, they can go to an area of their school or be sent to another building, take a test and wait for the result.

Testing will be voluntary and only with parental approval. But Singer said it will be much more convenient this way.

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“The concept is any time a kid is sick, a parent has to come in anyway,” he said. “This saves the problem of them having to get an appointment. It will help us keep down the number of kids in quarantine and also if the staff member or student doesn’t actually have COVID, it will be helpful in getting them back to school in a more timely manner.”

Currently, CCPS is in hybrid mode, meaning most students are allowed to attend classes in person twice a week. However, the school system is moving to more of a full-time plan and most students will have the option of going to school buildings four times a week by March 22.

Plans are not yet finalized, but Singer said the hope is to have testing in place by early March.

He told the commissioners it wouldn’t be practical to have testing at all CCPS facilities. A possibility is to have testing at all of Carroll’s high schools and make those testing services available to those students and staff members as well as all students and staff members from the elementary and middle schools that feed into each of those high schools.

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The school system is looking at options for where at the schools testing would be done — potentially empty portables, Singer said.

Singer said Gov. Larry Hogan offered a few weeks ago to make testing supplies available for schools.

“We haven’t worked out all the details yet, but we’re working very closely with the superintendent and his staff … to figure out exactly what this would look like,” Singer said. “I really think it would make things more convenient for parents.”

Meanwhile, Singer said the number of people making appointments to get a test at the health department-run site at the Carroll County Agriculture Center has plummeted.

“Our demand for testing is down to the point when we first kicked off testing at the Ag Center,” Singer said, noting that only 10 people had signed up for a Thursday appointment.

The Ag Center testing is done on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. When the number of COVID-19 cases began to increase substantially in November, the health department ramped up to be able to test as many as 250 people in a day. And during the first week of 2021 when Carroll’s case totals were peaking, the site was maxing out appointments.

But the demand has decreased greatly and positive tests in Carroll have declined in each of the past six weeks, from more than 500 the week of Jan. 3 to 102 last week.

“It’s just not efficient to run a mass testing site if you’ve only got 10 or 15 people showing up to get tested,” Singer said. “If we’re not getting at least 40 or 50, there’s not a lot of sense in having it three days a week.”

Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3 and Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, both noted that there are now many more places where people can get tested, usually being able to make appointments and be seen on the same day, so they said the plan to scale back made sense to them.

Singer said the health department was considering continuing testing on Sundays and Thursdays. Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, suggested looking into eliminating testing on Sundays as that might free up the Ag Center to host more events.

Singer also assured the commissioners that if demand for tests rose, CCHD could easily resume testing three days per week.

Times reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.

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