2021 | Schools

18 of MCPS’ 28,000 COVID-19 surveillance tests return positive, officials say

Testing is expected to expand to more schools this month

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Out of more than 28,000 COVID-19 tests administered as part of a Montgomery County Public Schools program aimed at pinpointing and stopping the spread of asymptomatic cases, 18 came up positive.

During a meeting with the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, Jimmy D’Andrea, chief of staff for MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight, said the district has administered 28,290 surveillance tests to students. Eighteen (0.06%) have returned a positive result.

The testing has been rolled out to 141 schools, mostly elementary. About 40,000 students (approximately 25% of the district’s student body) have consented.

The testing is expected to be expanded to more schools throughout October, D’Andrea said.

In total, about 483 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported among staff members and students through the first six weeks of school. There are about 160,000 students enrolled in the district and about 25,000 employees, meaning that approximately 0.3% have tested positive since Aug. 30.

About 81% of the positive cases were reported among students.
This semester is the first since the spring of 2020 that nearly all of the district’s 160,000 students are back in buildings.

School facilities were closed in March 2020 as COVID-19 began to spread. Some students returned a year later, beginning in March 2021, but more than half of the district’s students continued to take classes virtually until the new school year began.

Face coverings are required, regardless of vaccination status, and employees are required to be vaccinated, unless approved for a medical or religious exemption.

“[T]he overall safety in the community is having the desired impact of protecting our young people, especially those who can themselves not yet be vaccinated,” Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Wednesday. “While our vaccination rates are the most important element of that, it also shows the additive benefits of layered protections such as face coverings, broad testing opportunities, and a general willingness to be smart in our interactions with one another.”

Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, though county health officials expect federal approval by early November.

Sean O’Donnell, the public health emergency manager for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, told the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday that once the Pfizer vaccine is approved for that age group, he hopes county-run clinics and private providers can vaccinate between 25% and 30% of the eligible population each of the first two weeks.

Stoddard said the 5- to 11-year-old age group accounts for about 105,000 residents countywide, much larger than the roughly 60,000 residents who are 12 to 15 years old.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com