MCPS will stop COVID-19 contact tracing on May 5

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Public schools in Montgomery County will stop tracing COVID-19 contacts in their schools starting May 5, according to a district message Tuesday.

In the post, MCPS wrote that it will no longer “individually identify or notify people who are in close contact” with someone who tests positive for the virus. Instead, messages will be sent “at the class, year or school level, as appropriate, to notify the community of positive cases at individual schools,” according to the message. It does not specify how these decisions will be made or who will make them.

Acting Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. James Bridgers told the Montgomery County Board at a meeting on Tuesday that investigations would continue if there were a significant number of cases in schools.

The message from MCPS says the change is consistent with recommendations from the county Department of Health and Human Services, as well as advice 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 physician, 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 – less than 1% – have reported positive COVID-19 tests; 430 students are in quarantine.

In a text message Tuesday, MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram said unvaccinated students will no longer be required to self-quarantine. Current policy states that unvaccinated students and staff who are considered “close contacts” of someone who tests positive must quarantine for five days.

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

MCPS has been repeatedly criticized throughout the pandemic for its quarantine policies, which have changed rapidly, were sometimes unclear and have often been more restrictive than recommendations from local and state health authorities.

Acting Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s chief of staff, Jimmy D’Andrea, told the council on Tuesday that the Maryland Department of Health began recommending two months ago to move away from universal contact tracing.

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

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

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