Montgomery County Public Schools testing new system to curb COVID-19 threat

Montgomery County Public Schools is testing out a new system to curb the COVID-19 risk as they announced Tuesday that 11 schools will close for 14 days starting on Jan. 5 due to the virus.

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Another 89 schools may also soon be at risk. This comes after Interim Superintendent, Dr. Monifa McKnight confirmed 5,680 students and staff reported testing positive over the winter break.

The 11 schools now moving to virtual learning for the next 14 days starting on Wednesday are:

- Rock Terrace School

- Cannon Road Elementary School

- North Chevy Chase Elementary School

- Hallie Wells Middle School

- Monocacy Elementary School

- Roberto Clemente Middle School

- Forest Knolls Elementary School

- Waters Landing Elementary School

- Rosemont Elementary School

- Seneca Valley High School

- Sherwood Elementary School

To note which schools have high-risk levels as parents and schools try to mitigate the spread, MCPS announced it would move to a color category system online to show which schools have hit a 5% threshold or are at risk of doing so.

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A school showing in "Green" means less than 3% of staff and students reported tested positive within the last 14 days. "Yellow" means 3% to 5% reported positive and "Red" represents over 5% reporting.

Before the winter break, MCPS leaders announced that if 5% of unrelated students, teachers and staff report testing positive in a 14-day or two-week period, MCPS would use that metric to help determine whether a school should close and go virtual for the next 14-days.

The 11 schools slated to close on Wednesday were said to be in the "Red" category and 89 schools, not immediately named, to be in "Yellow."

This week, MCPS is supposed to start receiving a shipment of over 100,000 home rapid tests kits secured by the county with the goal of providing a home rapid test kit to every MCPS student, teacher and staffer.

"I’m sure parents are watching – Dr. Stoddard, I’m sure I’m going to get the question you know in seconds in my text or something. How did DC know about iHealth early enough to test all the kids before they return to school?," said Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker in a virtual county council meeting on Tuesday.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer, replied, "The vendor reached out to them in D.C. The vendor reached out to them in D.C. and they were told, ‘Hey, hey we have kits.’ This is the hodgepodge system we have in this country right now, which it’s a disaster."

When pressed about a list of vendors DHHS or the county actively called to procure tests, Dr. Stoddard revealed the county was not aware of the vendor iHealth until D.C. officials shared the information.

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Stoddard said the county is still waiting for home rapid tests it ordered from Abbott three months ago and blamed the president and federal government for ordering tests as part of the hold-up for local purchases.

In a message to FOX 5, Stoddard said, "100,000 of 196,000 kits will be immediately moved over to MCPS once the shipment arrives [on Tuesday]. Of the remaining 96,000 a portion will go to restock the community partners that have already received and distributed kits. The remaining (70-80k kits) will be distributed via a public distribution system similar to other neighboring jurisdictions (DC)."

More details are expected to be announced over the coming days.  

As soon as MCPS starts handing out rapid tests, school leaders said "Yellow" and "Red" category schools will be prioritized first. FOX 5 was told tests will go to schools in "Red" when their buildings open again.

FOX 5 also asked what’s being done to ensure that not just anyone can report a positive test at a school. MCPS Spokesperson Chris Cram confirmed for FOX 5 that when students and staff report a positive result, they must also upload proof of a positive case and are asked to include a student or employee ID number.


As part of addressing the COVID19 spread, MCPS also no longer allowing spectators at its indoor sporting events.  

The Montgomery County Council acting as the Board of Health also voted unanimously to keep the county’s indoor mask mandate in place until at least the end of January.