2021 | Coronavirus

As more students return, COVID-19 cases in MCPS nearly double in three weeks

13 positives identified through pool testing; 137 cases reported publicly since March 1

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This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. May 7, 2021, to correct a reference to Chevy Chase Elementary School.

The number of COVID-19 cases reported among Montgomery County Public Schools staff members and students nearly doubled in the past three weeks.

Since schools began reopening on March 1, at least 137 cases have been reported, and 64 were reported since April 14.

While health officials have said any increase in cases is “concerning,” more cases were expected as more students and employees returned to buildings.

MCPS used a phased reopening schedule that brought more children into buildings in waves. After the first 700 students returned, about 20,000 children were brought back in each of the next three phases.

The last reopening phase began on April 19, and there are now about 60,000 students in buildings part-time. So, if all of the reported positive cases were among students, the positivity rate within schools would be less than one quarter of 1 percent. Since some cases were among staff members — it’s not clear how many — the percentage is lower.

Some schools have fared worse than others. Many schools have publicly reported no cases, while some have had one since reopening.

But others have reported multiple cases, like Walt Whitman High School with six cases and Glen Haven Elementary with seven.

At Glen Haven, five cases have been reported since April 6. Last week, after at least two positive cases had been reported, the school sent a message to community members notifying them that central office staff members would be on campus for two days to “support instruction and school operations” because “a number of staff members and school leaders” needed to get tested for COVID-19 after an exposure to someone who had tested positive. The message said the employees were expected to return to schools within two days.

A school district spokeswoman wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Tuesday morning that at least 10 Glen Haven staff members had been exposed. No additional information was provided.

On March 25, as part of a partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks, of Boston, Mass., MCPS began rolling out what it calls “pool” COVID-19 tests to identify asymptomatic spread of the virus in its schools.

Each week, students and staff members in chosen classrooms swab their noses and put all of the swabs into a single test tube. The tube is then tested for COVID-19, and if a positive result is reported, the people included are asked to complete an individual test.

The testing has not yet been implemented at all schools or classes, and participation is optional.

As of Friday, 2,434 pool tests had been completed and 13 positives had been reported, according to MCPS.

Some families have reported that a small percentage of students in their children’s classes consented to the testing. Some have argued that the spotty participation does not make the testing valuable.

MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said, however, that any preventative measures are better than none.

The positive COVID-19 cases in MCPS between April 14 and May 3, according to the MCPS dashboard, were at the following (some reported more than one case in this period):

• Fairland Elementary
• Earle B. Wood Middle
• Sherwood Elementary
• Col. Zadok Magruder High
• New Hampshire Estates Elementary
• Olney Elementary
• Clopper Mill Elementary
• Rachel Carson Elementary (3)
• Meadow Hall Elementary
• Glen Haven Elementary (4)
• College Gardens Elementary (2)
• Pine Crest Elementary
• Luxmanor Elementary
• Little Bennett Elementary
• Wilson Wims Elementary
• Ashburton Elementary (2)
• Cashell Elementary
• Diamond Elementary
• Kensington Parkwood Elementary
• Gaithersburg Middle
• Walter Johnson High
• Cabin John Middle
• Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary
• Silver Spring International Middle
• Northwest High
• Chevy Chase Elementary
• Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary
• Bethesda-Chevy Chase High
• William Tyler Page Elementary
• Albert Einstein High
• Burtonsville Elementary
• Great Seneca Creek Elementary
• Montgomery Village Middle
• Gaithersburg High
• Robert Frost Middle
• Darnestown Elementary
• Thomas S. Wootton High (2)
• Ronald McNair Elementary
• Stedwick Elementary
• Maryvale Elementary
• Greenwood Elementary
• Dr. Sally K. Ride Elementary
• John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents
• Montgomery Blair High
• Watkins Mill High
• Seven Locks Elementary
• Carderock Springs Elementary
• Beall Elementary
• Whetstone Elementary
• Eastern Middle
• Waters Landing Elementary
• Belmont Elementary
• East Silver Spring Elementary
• Clarksburg High