In-person instruction is critical for the cognitive, social/emotional, and physical development of children. The Anne Arundel County Department of Health provided school reopening guidance in October 2020 and again in February 2021 to help safely reopen schools. Now, almost a year and a half into the pandemic, all schools are able to fully reopen for the 2021-2022 academic year.
In the past month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Maryland Department of Health (MDH) and Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have published updated guidelines on a range of strategies to ensure that schools can fully reopen to students while also minimizing the spread and impact of COVID-19. This guidance will address only the three mitigation strategies that the health department gets the most questions about: masking, testing and vaccination. There are many more mitigation strategies that schools are implementing that will not be covered here but that are covered in the guidelines mentioned above.
A comprehensive masking strategy is a critical piece of a multilayered COVID-19 mitigation strategy. Reducing the level of spread in schools will help keep students in school safer, with decreased absences, and decrease the need for quarantining students. For many students who are not eligible to get the vaccine, either because of age or medical condition, the more others are vaccinated, the less likely they are to get infected.
All kindergarten though grade 12 schools in Anne Arundel County should implement universal masking in indoor settings for students, teachers, staff and visitors. In outdoor settings, masks are not indicated for unvaccinated individuals except in crowded settings. This recommendation is consistent with guidance released in July by both the CDC and the AAP.
Critical factors that went into this recommendation include:
K-12 schools in Anne Arundel County are recommended to implement testing, in combination with other prevention strategies, as an important layer of prevention to decrease COVID-19 transmission amongst students and staff in school.
The CDC recommends screening testing as part of a layered approach to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the school setting. The MDH and MSDE also recommend diagnostic testing programs in schools as part of a comprehensive testing program.
Screening testing is used to identify positive cases in symptomatic or asymptomatic students and staff. Screening testing is a surveillance tool, as well as a prevention strategy used to support the full return to in-person learning. Diagnostic testing can be performed when an individual exhibits COVID-19 symptoms or has had a known exposure to a confirmed positive case.
The COVID-19 Testing Task Force, Maryland Department of Health (MDH), and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) have developed a K-12 COVID-19 testing program to provide free COVID-19 testing, laboratory support, and technical assistance for public school systems and non-public schools. For program registration or questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Vaccines significantly decrease the risk of severe disease and death. Vaccines are currently available for all individuals 12 and older. Everyone who is eligible is strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, preferably before the beginning of the school year.
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