ROCKVILLE, Md. - Montgomery County Public Schools say they will begin using COVID-19 rapid tests in all schools as they try to keep more students in the classroom amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.
President Joe Biden on Thursday called for more testing to be made available to the public – a call to action that Maryland’s largest school district is implementing with a new testing policy to prevent students from being quarantined unnecessarily.
Many Montgomery County parents are frustrated that entire classes are being sent home when one kid shows a single symptom – even if they haven’t tested positive yet.
"MCPS’ decision to quarantine close contacts of a student with COVID-19 symptoms was based on guidance from our local health department. While the state guidance does not require these students to quarantine until a positive test result is obtained, DHHS advises a different strategy for that category of students," said a statement released by MCPS Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight.
"The use of these tests, in conjunction with the other safety measures we have in place, will hopefully help us keep more students in school," McKnight's statement continued. "We will be receiving further guidance from DHHS on the implementation of this rapid testing program and will provide information to you as quickly as possible."
The Montgomery County Health Department spokesperson says training for certain school district employees to administer these tests will start tomorrow, and its implementation will be different from random testing.
Next week, the county will begin receiving around 40,000 rapid tests requested from the state – so they can get that single student showing a symptom rapid tested instead of sending the whole class home right away.
But one Robert Frost parent says the testing is s distraction – and this policy is the problem that’s disrupting education.
"This quarantine guidance that they put out is the most restrictive in the nation. It’s a national outlier and it’s not based in any science. It needs to be repealed today and that’s why I’m her to ask the board to repeal it right now," said Jennifer Reesman.
Reesman says her daughter was one of some 50 students told to quarantine or test negative after being exposed to a student showing a possible COVID symptom.
Reesman showed has a $95 receipt for the rapid test she paid for out of pocket to get her daughter back in class.
Multiple people testifying at today’s Montgomery County Board of Education meeting called for the board to end this local county health department policy.
School officials on Thursday confirmed a total of 1,781 students were home as of last Friday due to COVID-related absences – with only about half that, 884 students, actually in quarantine because of close contact with a positive case.
Before the rapid testing can begin, school leaders also have to work out how they’ll obtain parental permission to give that rapid test.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Earl Stoddard says this single-symptom quarantine policy is not exactly new – that the county health department had applied this to contact tracing, especially in private schools, last year. MCPS couldn’t confirm, however, FOX 5 learned that they didn’t have the same large quarantine issues because last school year, the students were spaced six feet apart or more.
The number of weekly COVID-19 cases among children has climbed to the highest figure seen since the pandemic began, in what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) described as an exponential increase since early summer with 251,781 new weekly infections.
"As of September 2, over 5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic," the AAP wrote in its latest report. "About 252,000 cases were added the past week, the largest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began. After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between August 5 and September 2."
The schools are now talking contingency plans should they have to go back to a hybrid model.