Montgomery County has had 66 coronavirus cases at public, private schools

66 COVID-19 cases reported in Montgomery County public, private schools

Department of Health has completed more than 200 investigations

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This story and a headline were updated at 8:50 a.m. Oct. 27, 2020, to correct the number of investigations.

Sixty-six cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Montgomery County schools, including 11 outbreaks, according to the county health department.

In an email to Bethesda Beat, spokeswoman Mary Anderson wrote that the health department has conducted 204 investigations into potential coronavirus cases at public and private schools — 172 at private schools and 32 at public schools. From those investigations, 66 confirmed cases have been found. The data include employees and students.

Anderson did not specify how many cases were at private schools and how many were at public schools.

However, she reported that there have been seven COVID-19 outbreaks at public schools and four at private schools.

A coronavirus outbreak at a school is defined as at least two confirmed cases among students and/or staff members who live in different households and interacted in the school setting.

In August, there was a tense back-and-forth between county health officer Dr. Travis Gayles and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan about whether local private schools should be allowed to reopen.

Ultimately, Gayles rescinded his order prohibiting in-person instruction for private schools. Since then, several private schools in the county have reopened for hybrid learning or to bring in small groups of students. The schools have put in place numerous safeguards, such as distancing, mask use and frequent hand washing and sanitization.

MCPS buildings remain closed as the district conducts instruction remotely. Some schools routinely have staff members on site to conduct “essential business,” like meal distribution and building services. Some educators have elected to teach from their classrooms, and some schools are being used by private child care companies for day care or academic instruction for small groups of students.

Data provided to Bethesda Beat by the county health department did not say when positive cases were reported in private and public schools, nor did it identify the schools where the cases occurred.

In recent calls with private school leaders, Gayles and Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of Montgomery County’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, have said it is not the county’s “intent to release information beyond what is absolutely necessary to protect public health.”

This month, MCPS has publicly announced seven confirmed cases among staff members:

• One food services worker at Shady Grove Middle School in Gaithersburg

• Four staff members at Bradley Hills Elementary School in Bethesda

• One food services worker at Northwood High School in Silver Spring

• One food services worker at Glen Haven Elementary School in Wheaton.

During a call with reporters last week, Gayles said that as the county gets deeper into cold and flu season, he expects the health department to receive more reports of “COVID-like” illnesses.

Schools are required by state law to report all confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the department, and all cases in which a student or staff member exhibit symptoms similar to the coronavirus.

A “COVID-like” illness is defined as having at least one of the following symptoms:

• Cough

• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

• New loss of taste or smell

COVID-like illness is also defined as having at least two of the following symptoms:

• A fever of 100.4 degrees or higher

• Chills

• Muscle aches

• Headache

• Sore threat

• Nausea

• Diarrhea

• Fatigue

• Indigestion

• Runny nose.

“Everything I just listed … looks a whole lot like a lot of other things that aren’t necessarily COVID,” Gayles said. “But, because of the guidelines and the precautions we have to take, if anyone in a school setting is demonstrating those symptoms, they’re required to report that and it’s treated as a COVID case until otherwise proven not COVID by a lab test.”

People should get a flu shot, Gayles said, and stay home if they have any symptoms of illness.

Montgomery County has reported 25,281 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. Nearly 13,000 of the cases were among people between 20 and 50 years old, while about 3,200 cases were people younger than 20, according to county data.

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

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