2022 | Schools

MCPS to stop COVID-19 contact tracing May 5

Change aligns with state, federal guidance, district says

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Montgomery County Public Schools will stop conducting COVID-19 contact tracing in its schools starting May 5, according to a message from the district on Tuesday.

In the message, MCPS wrote that it will no longer “identify or individually notify individuals who are in close contact” with a person who tests positive for the virus. Instead, messages will be sent “out at the classroom, grade or school level as appropriate to inform the community of positive cases at individual schools,” according to the message. It does not elaborate about how those decisions will be made, or who will make them.

Acting Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. James Bridgers told the Montgomery County Council during a meeting Tuesday that investigations will continue if there are significant numbers of cases in schools.

The MCPS message said the change aligns with recommendations from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health.

The change is the first major shift in the district’s COVID-19 policy since it hired a medical officer, tasked with guiding the district through the pandemic, on April 8.

In the past 10 days, since returning from spring break, 1,299 students and staff members — less than 1% — have reported positive COVID-19 tests; 430 students are in quarantine.

In a text message Tuesday, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said unvaccinated students no longer will be required to quarantine. The current policy says unvaccinated students and staff members who are considered “close contacts” to someone who tested positive should quarantine for five days.

People who test positive still will be required to quarantine for five days, Cram said.

MCPS has come under fire at several points throughout the pandemic for its quarantine policies, which have changed rapidly, sometimes been unclear and often have been more restrictive than recommendations from local and national health officials.

Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s chief of staff, Jimmy D’Andrea, told the council Tuesday the Maryland Department of Health began recommending a shift away from universal contact tracing two months ago.

Tuesday’s message from MCPS said the changes are possible “because of the important work we have all undertaken to follow health guidelines, including vaccinations, that mitigate and minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

County health officials said Tuesday they does not track vaccinations by school. In Montgomery County, however, 87% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. About 92.7% of residents aged 5 or older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.