ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — Nonpublic schools should start the year online to slow the spread of coronavirus, Anne Arundel County’s top health official recommends. Schools that wish to reopen must submit a coronavirus-prevention plan to the county’s Department of Health for approval.
Anne Arundel County Safety Plans
Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman sent a letter to nonpublic school leaders Wednesday, urging them to hold virtual classes when possible. Nonpublic schools are those that are private, church-related or publicly-funded but privately-operated. A list of nonpublic schools in Anne Arundel County is available here.
Kalyanaraman understands that some schools, especially those serving students with disabilities, may need to reopen in-person. His guidance creates enough flexibility for schools to return to the classroom when needed while also minimizing unnecessary gatherings.
“Reopening schools is critical to the cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of the children in our county,” Kalyanaraman wrote in the letter. “Virtual instruction is a key bridge for when children cannot be in school due to COVID-19 related safety concerns. Our goal is to balance the benefits of in-person instruction with the risks posed by COVID-19.”
Nonpublic schools aiming to reopen for in-person instruction must submit their safety plans to the county’s Department of Health at least 14 days before their first day of classes. Schools that have already reopened must send in their procedures within three days of receiving Kalyanaraman’s letter. Schools that are starting the year virtually still must submit their safety outline at least 14 days before returning to in-person classes, whenever they choose to do so.
The Department of Health will review each policy within two business days for compliance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland State Department of Education. Kalyanaraman’s team will reject safety plans that do not meet these guidelines, the health officer said.
If a school’s proposal is rejected, it must update its strategy before reopening. The Department of Health says it will work with schools to improve shortcomings so they can safely reopen on time.
Nonpublic schools are only allowed to open or remain open after the Department of Health okays their methodology. The department will keep an updated list of approved schools on its website as their coronavirus-prevention plans roll in.
Kalyanaraman insisted that schools must have testing and internal contact tracing systems set before reopening. These programs must include a way for schools to learn of all students and staff that test positive for coronavirus. The schools must then report each positive person to the Department of Health so officials can conduct their own contact tracing.
“To reopen schools safely, a couple of conditions must be met,” Kalyanaraman said. “The rate of cases in the community must be low enough to minimize the risk of school based transmission.”
A Department of Health spokesperson reminded nonpublic schools that the coronavirus situation is ever-evolving. The department will adjust its guidance as needed, she said.
“We all want the same thing: to ensure that our children get the education they need while protecting their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Public Information Director Elin Jones said in a follow-up email. “This approach allows us to collaborate before school starts so that we start the school year on the right foot.”
Anne Arundel County nonpublic schools should send their safety plans and related questions Karen Siska-Creel at [email protected]. Schools should notify Karen Karnes of any students or staff that test positive for coronavirus. Karnes is reachable at (410) 222-4229 and [email protected].
Hogan Overrides Montgomery County
Kalyanaraman’s sent his letter after Montgomery County drew statewide criticism for its handling of private school closures. On July 31, The county’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, ordered private schools to keep classes online through Oct. 1.
Gov. Larry Hogan overturned that mandate on Aug. 3. He argued that it was an overstep of power, claiming that private schools should be able to decide when to reopen, so long as they follow safety measures.
The governor issued an executive order, stripping county health officers of their ability to issue blanket school closures. A group of six families of private school students showed their support by filing a lawsuit against Gayles.
The Montgomery County health officer doubled down, levying a second mandate on Aug. 5. His new action still required private schools to continue virtual learning through Oct. 1. This time, the declaration cited state law allowing health officers to “take any action or measure necessary to prevent the spread of communicable disease.”
After Maryland’s health secretary reminded county health officers of their inability to drop sweeping school shutdowns, Gayles revoked his second order. Now, the Montgomery County official “continues to strongly advise schools against in-person learning due to the risks posed by COVID-19” and asks the state to “provide articulable criteria to be used in determining acceptable and safe levels of activity in schools.”
Hogan’s pushback aligns with the state’s recent move to give each district the choice of when to return to the classroom. On July 22, the state board of education gave school systems permission to reopen for in-person lessons at their jurisdiction’s discretion. Maryland schools were previously closed since the state superintendent shut them down in March.
Districts that return to school buildings must follow the state’s health recommendations. All students and staff must wear masks whenever they are in school buildings, State Superintendent Karen Salmon said.
“I hear every day from those who passionately demand that schools be fully reopened as well as those who are adamant in appeals for only virtual learning,” Salmon said during her announcement. “In striking a balance and offering local flexibility, we offer an approach that we hope will lead to more in-person school time.”
Both Anne Arundel County and Montgomery County Public Schools will start the school year with distance learning.
Coronavirus Statistics Update
Anne Arundel County has the fifth most coronavirus infections in the state, with 7,528. The virus has killed 218 county residents.
The county’s most recent data clock the positivity rate at 2.51 percent, which the lowest its been since Maryland started tracking the metric. Anne Arundel County’s positivity rate topped out at 28.24 percent on April 16.
Anne Arundel’s coronavirus-related hospitalizations have slowed as recently. The virus had 29 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital on Monday. That was the lowest since July 13 when 28 locals were hospitalized. Fewer than 50 residents have been hospitalized at a time since June 14.
More than 170 people were hospitalized in Anne Arundel County on the pandemic’s April 21 peak. The county’s recent high of 49 hospitalizations came on July 24. As of Wednesday, 31 Anne Arundel County residents are receiving coronavirus treatment in the hospital.
Maryland has registered 98,160 cases of coronavirus and 3,483 related deaths.
New infections reached a single-day high of 1,784 on May 19. By June 18, new cases bottomed out at 260.
Coronavirus cases have surged since testing became more readily available. The growing number of cases added Maryland to Connecticut, New Jersey and New York’s Marylanders must quarantine for 14 days when they visit one of the three states.on July 21. Now,
The trio limits travel from states with a weekly positivity rate above 10 percent or a seven-day rolling average of more than 10 new cases-per-day per 100,000 residents. With a population of 6.1 million, Maryland will fall off the list when it averages 610 new cases-per-day during any given week.
The state has averaged 736 new infections-per-day over the past week. Last Thursday, that number was 833.
New infections hit a recent high of 1,288 on July 25. The state tallied 776 more cases on Thursday.
Maryland’s hospitalizations peaked at 1,711 on April 30 and bottomed out at 385 on July 10. They hit a recent high of 592 on Aug. 1. The state counted 470 hospitalizations on Thursday, which was the fewest since July 20.
The state’s positivity rate is also down. The current seven-day average positivity rate of 3.49 percent is the lowest its ever been. Saturday’s 2.7 percent positive was a single-day low.
The weekly positivity rate reached its ceiling of 26.92 percent on April 17. It has since been under 10 percent since June 2. The CDC says states should aim to keep their positivity rate below 5 percent, which Maryland has done since June 25.
Maryland’s declining positivity rate has followed its swell in testing. The state has tested more than 10,000 people-per-day since July 7. On Saturday, the state tested a record-high 40,672 people. Maryland reported 29,842 tests on Wednesday.
The flood of testing came after Hogan set a goal to test at least 10 percent of the population in each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions. Cecil County was the last to reach the mark.
Anne Arundel County was the 17th to hit the checkpoint. The county has tested 16.3 percent of its residents, which is the 16th most in the state.
Since meeting Hogan’s benchmark, Anne Arundel County has shifted its focus to testing at least 2 percent of its population each week. That equates to about 11,600 tests every seven days. On July 31, Kalyanaraman announced that the county passed the threshold for the first time since announcing the target on July 9.
Anne Arundel County residents with questions about coronavirus and testing can visit the Department of Health’s website. Locals can also learn more by calling the health line at (410) 222-7256. The call center is staffed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The Department of Health will also answer questions emailed to [email protected]
This article was updated at 8:56 p.m. to include information from the Department of Health regarding its response time to the safety plans, approach to those that come up short and its future guidance to the county’s nonpublic schools.
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