Fifty-nine Montgomery County Public Schools staff members have reported contracting COVID-19 to the school system since the pandemic began in early March, according to district officials.
In an email on Monday morning, MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala wrote that 59 staff members have reported they tested positive for COVID-19. Some staff members had not been on school grounds since March, but reported their positive cases to the school district anyway.
MCPS did not disclose how many staff members had been on school property or had contact with other employees.
In her email, Onijala wrote, “Employees that may have had direct contact with one of those 59 employees at an MCPS job site or office would have been informed and instructed to quarantine but I am unable to quantify how many that may have been.”
Onijala declined to say whether any staff members have died of the coronavirus, citing privacy concerns.
In a separate email, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Mary Anderson wrote that the department was aware of three confirmed cases in MCPS:
MCPS is required to report all of its COVID-19 cases to the county health department if the staff members or students who tested positive were recently on campus. MCPS would not say how many of its 59 reported cases were among staff members who had recently been on school grounds.
The school district has about 24,000 employees.
Three times in August, Bethesda Beat asked MCPS for data about MCPS staff members’ COVID-19 exposures since the pandemic began, how many staff members have been advised to quarantine due to exposures on school district property and how many staff members have died due to COVID-19.
The county health department provided its data after Bethesda Beat’s second request. MCPS provided the data after Bethesda Beat’s third request.
During a town hall meeting last month, SEIU Local 500 President Pia Morrison told union members there have been “some cases of COVID in our offices in some of our schools and in some of our depots.” She said she did not know how many confirmed cases there had been.
In early May, two staff members at Kemp Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring told Bethesda Beat they learned from colleagues that a school administrator had tested positive for the coronavirus, but the school community was not notified. They said the administrator had been on school property in the days before their diagnosis.
Asked by a community member about the Kemp Mill case during a meeting with nonpublic school leaders on Friday, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said neither the health department nor the school district will notify communities of every case. Instead, the public will be notified if there is a risk of widespread transmission, Gayles said.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, the director of Montgomery County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said, “It’s not our intent to release information beyond what is absolutely necessary to protect public health.”
During a call with reporters in July, when MCPS was planning for a fall semester that would have included some face-to-face instruction, Superintendent Jack Smith said it will be a “necessity” that families receive prompt notification about possible infections in their child’s school.
At the time, he said MCPS officials were unsure how to do so while complying with health privacy laws.
Since Smith’s media briefing, the school district has transitioned to a fully remote instructional model for the first semester of the academic year, which began on Monday.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com