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Baltimore city student athletes no longer required to get COVID-19 vaccine

Baltimore City Public Schools Lady Knights play softball.
Baltimore City Public Schools
Baltimore City Public Schools Lady Knights play softball.

Students attending Baltimore City Public Schools no longer need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play sports under a new policy.

Last year all of the district’s student athletes were required to provide proof of vaccination to train and compete with a team.

The new policy, known as “test to play” means athletes will be tested bi-weekly for COVID-19 through the school district.

If one athlete tests positive, the whole team will be tested for the virus. But as long as individuals test negative then they are allowed to participate in practice and games.

The goal of the new rule is to prevent disruption during the sport season and minimize the spread of COVID-19 among athletes, said Cleo Hirsch, executive director for COVID response at Baltimore City Public Schools.

Coaches and athletic directors at the school district said that the vaccine mandate created a barrier for students whose parents did not feel comfortable getting their children vaccinated. More than 533,000 individuals between the ages of 10 and 19 have been vaccinated against COVID across Maryland, state data shows.

The COVID-19 positivity rate across Maryland is 11.3% compared to roughly 4% in August 2021, according to state data.

The decision to revise the district’s policy was to increase engagement in the school community and participation in extracurriculars.

“We really want to promote that engagement wherever possible,” Hirsch said. “We wanted to remove the barrier of vaccination while ensuring that we continue to prioritize health and safety for our students.”

In addition to the new policy for student athletes, the district also changed proceduresfor students and staff across the district for the school year that begins August 29.

If a staff member or student is exposed to COVID-19 they do not have to quarantine, however they must wear a mask for 10 days. Additionally, the school district will scale back in-school screening tests from weekly to bi-weekly and will not conduct contact tracing, but instead will notify school communities of positive cases.

Students and staff who test positive must be isolated for five days. Hirsch said this year the system wants to “prioritize that those who are sick remain home, but if you're not sick, you can always be in school.”

Families will be given COVID tests kits to use at home at the beginning of the school year in hopes of minimizing outbreaks.

“We think this is really important because we want our young people to be in school as much as possible,” Hirsch said.

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education. @Zshekinahgf
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