County health officials: ‘Expect to see cases’ of COVID-19 if schools reopen

County health officials: ‘Expect to see cases’ of COVID-19 if schools reopen

12 private schools have had positive cases, Gayles says

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Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles speaks to private school leaders during a meeting on Friday.

Screenshot via live stream

Montgomery County health officials on Friday told leaders of local private schools that if they welcome students back for in-person classes, they “should expect to see cases” of COVID-19 among staff and students.

Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles and Dr. Earl Stoddard, the county’s director of emergency management and homeland security, told private school officials during a meeting the local rate of community transmission of the virus is still too high to prevent its spread in school communities.

“If you opened right now in a hybrid model … you should expect to see cases,” Stoddard said, adding that the health department’s contact tracing team has investigated 13 cases of COVID-19 at private schools. “I expect that number to increase over time.”

One of the cases occurred at the Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kensington where a second-grade teacher and student tested positive for COVID-19, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Stoddard said schools that choose to reopen should “plan for that” and have policies and procedures established about how to respond that conform to state guidelines.

For example, he said, schools must report both confirmed cases and suspected cases of the coronavirus to the health department and cooperate with contact tracing efforts.

Stoddard also cautioned that schools will likely see an increase of “COVID-like illnesses” as flu season ramps up, particularly because some symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to those of the flu.

On Friday, Gayles would not disclose which private schools had reported confirmed cases, citing privacy concerns.

He said cases have involved students, teachers and staff, and there is at least one case in which it is suspected that a teacher transmitted the virus to a student.

He did not say how many confirmed cases there have been total in private schools, but said 12 schools have reported positive cases.

Six schools have had to quarantine students or staff members because of possible exposure to COVID-19, Gayles said.

Both Stoddard and Gayles said it would be beneficial to test students and staff for COVID-19 before returning to school, but it would be more effective to test everyone routinely.

In Montgomery County, about 25% of new confirmed cases each day are among people younger than 19, according to data presented by Gayles on Friday.

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

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