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More than 1,100 Harford County students quarantining or isolating because of COVID concerns

More than 1,100 Harford County students are missing school either because they have contracted COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms of the virus or have been exposed to it, according to data reported Monday on the school system’s coronavirus dashboard.

According to Harford County Public Schools’ COVID dashboard, 158 students had tested positive for the coronavirus — either through a PCR or rapid test. Of the students who tested positive, only five were vaccinated.

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As of Monday, 788 students were quarantining. This occurs when a person is identified as a close contact with someone who either has COVID-19 or is at risk for developing the virus.

An additional 382 were in isolation, according to the HCPS data. Isolation occurs when someone either has COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms awaiting diagnosis.

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Students are not the only ones testing positive; as of Monday, 11 staff were quarantining, a further 45 were in isolation, and 19 of the 44 staff who tested positive were vaccinated, the data shows.

Overall, 141 COVID tests have been given to staff, and 833 tests have been given to students, the data states.

Katie Ridgway, Acting Director of Strategic Initiatives and Supervisor of Risk Management for Harford County Public Schools, said make up work would be provided if a student is quarantined or isolated. Tutoring is also available upon request. HCPS does not have an option to test out of quarantine, Ridgway said.

“If you have a positive test, then you must isolate for 10 days with no other testing necessary,” she said.

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Revised definitions of close contact from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also let more students avoid quarantining, Ridgway said.

Currently, the CDC defines close contact as being within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, but there is an exception for K-12 schools. According to the CDC, the close contact definition excludes K-12 students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student if both of them wore well-fitting masks the whole time.

“It is hard to anticipate numbers, but we are pleased with the classroom exception offered by the CDC definition of close contact,” Ridgway said. “As that exception definitely reduces the number of students needing to quarantine as compared to last spring.”

According to HCPS’ continuity of learning plan, the school system can take action depending on the spread of COVID in schools. Those steps can range from closing buildings and classrooms to reducing non-curriculum activities, the plan states.

According to data from the Maryland Department of Health, Harford County’s positivity rating was 4.91% as of Sunday — over the state’s average of 4.35%. Its positivity rating reached 7.37% the day schools opened on Sept. 8. While that was the highest positivity rating the county had seen since April, the rating had been climbing since Sept. 1.

When Harford students returned to the classroom on Sept. 8, masks were required for students in school buildings, which became a hotly-debated topic at school board meetings. But COVID spreading through schools is not endemic to the county.

Over 800 students, teachers and staff in nearby Carroll County were quarantining last week. Carroll was one of two jurisdictions that did not require masks in before their school year began on Sept. 8, but emergency regulation by the state board of education forced students to don them.

And on Monday, students at a Carroll County middle school were told they will learn virtually for two days due to the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts.

Between Sept. 3 and 10, Baltimore County Public Schools reported 185 positive cases, according to its online dashboard, and Baltimore City Public Schools has reported 178 positive cases over the last 10 days, according to its data.

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