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Maryland COVID-19 restrictions ease in some schools

Baltimore County Public Schools
Baltimore County Public Schools
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Baltimore County Public School students will return to the classroom in the coming weeks with fewer COVID-19 restrictions on the books.

Students and staff returning to the classroom across Baltimore County Public Schools should expect a more typical year when classes resume Aug. 29, according to the head nurse for the school system. Gone will be many of the COVID-19 protocols. A big change this year is there will be no more quarantining of people who have been exposed to someone infected with COVID. Don’t expect to see masks for the most part either.

“No one needs to quarantine immediately after exposure as long as they don’t have symptoms,” said Deborah Somerville, the director of the office of health services.

But other school districts are keeping preventative rules such as masks in Prince George’s County. Baltimore City Public Schools has not released any information about back-to-school requirements for the general student population. In Baltimore County, employees and students can still show up to school if they have been exposed but Somerville said it’s recommended they wear a mask for 10 days after the last close contact.

“With COVID, you’re contagious before your symptoms develop,” Somerville said. “Wearing a mask is just a respectful way to not pass it on to other people in case you are going to become a case.”

She also advised that individuals take a COVID test five days after they were exposed to the virus. The school system is following more relaxed COVID guidelines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week.

“I think that the priority that the CDC has set on minimizing disruption to everyday life, including schooling and missing work too is really important,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a professor of health policy and management at George Washington University.

Dr. Wen appeared on Monday’s WYPR Midday show. She suggested that the CDC’s recommendation to lift the quarantine requirement for students who come in contact with someone with COVID “Will be a huge relief for parents who are otherwise really worried about having a repeat of last year’s experience where kids are sent home. They are basically recognizing that we are at a very different point in the pandemic now.”

Wen said unlike when classes began last year, all school-aged children now are eligible to be vaccinated. Also, the percentage of children and adults with immunity is extremely high.

“The combination of vaccines and prior infections probably means that we have 90% to 95% or higher immunity in our populations so different rules have to be in place this year,” Wen said.

Those different rules include not requiring social distancing in the county schools.

“Distance is still a protective practice when you’re talking about being around people,” said Somerville. “But there’s no absolute you have to stay a certain number of feet apart.”

Wearing masks indoors became optional in Baltimore County schools in February, during the previous school year. It will remain an option rather than a requirement when school starts in less than two weeks. Localities can set their own masking requirements. Prince George's County Public Schools announced Friday masks will be required until further notice “in light of the highly contagious COVID-19 BA.5 variant.”

Baltimore City's school system dropped mask requirements this past March for most situations. Student athletes will be required to test regularly for COVID-19 this fall.

If someone in the Baltimore County Public Schools contracts COVID, Somerville said they will have to stay home for at least five days and until their fever has been gone for 24 hours and they feel better.

But when they return to a school building they will be required to wear a mask until they’re 10 days out from when they first got the infection, unless they test negative.

“You can come back to school on day six without a mask if you did a test on day 5 and it was negative,” Somerville said.

As the school year gears up, Somerville said all staff are being given COVID home tests to use if they are having symptoms. If students start showing symptoms at school, they will be given a test kit and sent home.

And Somerville said it’s important for people who are sick to stay home.

“We need a culture shift on powering through mild symptoms of illness,” Somerville said. “It’s no longer a badge of honor to work when you’re sick and we really need people to rethink that.”

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.
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