The Carroll County Board of Education discussed modifying COVID-19 quarantine protocols for students at a special meeting Wednesday after expressing concern about the growing number of healthy students missing in-person instruction.
The system’s dashboard that tracks COVID-19 cases and updates every Wednesday reported 248 people, including seven staff members, have the COVID-19 virus and are in quarantine. Additionally, 1,405 students were reported to be in quarantine because of close contacts.
Superintendent Steven Lockard at the meeting said on any given day upward of 95% of students are back in school five days a week despite the quarantine protocols.
“While we certainly want to maintain health and safety protocols in our system, we’re also trying to balance in-person, consistent instruction for our students,” Lockard said.
But Lockard said there are challenges related to the quarantine process and some students who have not had COVID-19 “had maybe seen two days of school.”
Karl Streaker, director of student services, explained when schools learn of a positive COVID-19 case, the first thing they do is to send the student home. It is then determined when their symptoms started and who came in close contact with the student. Those close contacts are then placed in quarantine. Usually about 30 to 40 students are involved, he said.
“Vaccinated students do not have to quarantine if they are asymptomatic,” Streaker said.
If the quarantined student receives a negative COVID-19 test, they may return to school buildings after eight days. Without a test, however, they may return on the 11th day, Streaker said.
“I’d like to see us moving to quarantine when we have symptoms,” Lockard said, suggesting the school system follow the lead of Harford County Public Schools. “I think instead of 1,400 and growing, we’d be able to significantly change that and keep more of our healthy kids in school.”
Lockard suggested changing the protocols so that students would only have to quarantine after a close contact if they are symptomatic or were not wearing a mask at the time of exposure.
Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer said he wasn’t comfortable with Lockard’s proposal but offered to “work something out that would help meet the school system’s needs and do the best we can to protect the community.”
Singer agreed to help the school system come up with a plan to implement changes to quarantine protocols by Monday.
Earlier this month, students at Northwest Middle School had to learn virtually for two days after the school temporarily closed due the number of COVID-19 cases and concerns about close contacts.
On Wednesday, Maryland Department of Health posted data showing the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in Baltimore-area schools is continuing to rise.
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.
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. 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 the one at Northwest Middle School. In Harford County, nine schools reported outbreaks, and Howard County reported 15 school outbreaks.
Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.