MCPS Delays Reopening as Cases Continue To Rise

by Jay Joseph ‘22

The MCPS Board of Education voted 7-1 to push back the previous start date of February 1 to March 15 for school reopening, almost exactly a year after schools closed, and will meet again February 23 to vote on the date. The board reviewed the metrics of January 11, where the 14-day average of new cases per 100,000 people by the MD Calculation model was 47 and the positivity rate was 7.5 percent. The board concluded that Montgomery County did not meet the recently revised reopening metrics of fifteen new cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day average and a test positivity rate below five percent.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith explained that as part of the Phase 1B group that includes 860,000 people statewide, K-12 school and daycare faculty and staff will start receiving vaccines late January. MCPS will provide updates regarding the vaccines to staff in the coming weeks. 

Smith explained that no official health bodies have reported on how the distribution of vaccines will affect the health metrics or the pace at which students are phased in. For now, the current reopening plan, including the student groups, the process of phasing in students, and metrics, will remain the same as MCPS continues to optimistically plan for reopening in two months due to the possibility of a fully vaccinated staff.

However, on the same Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan explained that the pace of vaccinations in Maryland has surpassed the rate at which the federal government is shipping doses to the state. Currently, Maryland does not have enough second doses to cover front-line healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities in the Phase 1A group or first doses for the priority group of Phase 1B, seniors over 65. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines require two doses, separated over 21 and 28 days respectively, to be effective. Due to high demand without enough supply, the dosage intervals of the vaccines, and the lack of a developed vaccination program in MCPS, the prospects of a fully vaccinated education staff by March 15 seems unlikely. 

Hogan also announced that a new highly-infectious variant of Covid-19 from the United Kingdom appeared in Anne Arundel County. This variant could further encourage the ongoing spike of cases in Montgomery County, which reached a record high of 45.4 new cases per 100,000 people January 12.