by Dylan Sondike ‘24
In each of the past two winters, the number of Covid-19 cases has dramatically increased in the United States. This raises the question of what should Americans expect from Covid-19 over the next few months as indoor gatherings increase during the colder weather and upcoming holidays. With new relaxed MCPS Covid-19 guidelines, slim numbers of reported positive cases on the MCPS dashboard, and new Omicron-specific vaccines, schools across Montgomery County are proceeding as if the coronavirus pandemic has ended.
MCPS fall 2022 guidelines include many similar procedures from the end of the last year. Schools are supposed to continue sanitation each day, especially door knobs, light switches, and other commonly touched items. New ventilation systems are also scheduled to be installed in schools over time to improve the air quality in response to the pandemic. MCPS also will carry on with supplying Covid-19 tests only during large outbreaks and for students with symptoms.
In regard to masks and social distancing, however, guidelines are more vague. Students are still not required to wear masks and in most cases, only 2-4 students in a class of 25-30 students on average wear one. Similarly, the vast majority of teachers no longer wear masks. While social distancing is encouraged, MCPS no longer makes recommendations about spacing desks nor collects seating charts for contract tracing. Students who are close contacts of students with positive Covid-19 cases may continue to proceed to school if they follow mask and testing procedures, and continue to show no symptoms.
The MCPS Covid-19 dashboard continues to update each day giving each school’s positive case numbers in MCPS in the past week as well as the total number of staff and student positive cases per school and for the entire county. Dashboard results have shown only three schools in the entire county having more than one percent of positive cases as of October 17 and a total of 169 staff and students testing positive for Covid-19 in all of MCPS in the past seven days. However, MCPS has stopped actively reminding students to self-report when they have Covid-19, and it therefore is unclear if the Dashboard is accurately reflecting the number of cases in schools.
New Covid-19 boosters were also approved a few months ago targeting the more recent Omicron variants. People over 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer bivalent booster shot and people 18 and older can get the Moderna bivalent shot. New vaccines are strongly encouraged for students and others by the FDA.
That being said, scientists expect more contagious Omicron sub-variants to come at any time in the future, with the likelihood increasing from the cold weather. “It is such an unpredictable virus in the sense that we’ve been fooled before, and we likely will continue to be fooled,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci regarding possible Covid-19 outbreaks this winter.