BALTIMORE (WMAR) — "It’s been great. It’s been wonderful to see families come back. Students have been happy," said Alison Perkins-Cohen, Baltimore City Schools Chief of Staff.
All Baltimore City elementary schoolers and 9th graders now have the option to be back in class in person.
As part of city schools safety protocols, they have instituted weekly asymptomatic testing.
For elementary schools, it’s a self-administered test in pools of up to 25 people, mostly based around classes but some could include other staff members. Each pool gets one test result.
Last week, 253 pools were tested and 13 came back positive. Perkins-Cohen said this does not mean everyone in those pools has COVID-19.
"If you assume it’s probably one person per pool, which we don’t have the final data yet because we are still doing the follow up test, but it’s probably one per pool, that would be 13 people out of 3,290, so that’s a positivity rate of .5%," said Perkins-Cohen.
The 13 pools are now quarantining for two weeks. Perkins-Cohen said this demonstrates the asymptomatic testing is doing exactly what they wanted.
"We’re happy to see rates are low and that we are catching it early. Most of the folks who we tested were asymptomatic which is exactly the point; you want to make sure you are identifying folks early before they really as contagious and spreading it in the school," said Perkins-Cohen.
In a statement, Diamonté Brown, BTU President, said:
“Members feel more secure knowing that proactive testing is identifying and isolating positive cases in schools, without that testing students and staff would be unknowingly interacting with people who have COVID. We're thankful that the district listened to staff concerns and invested in this program. With that said, we've now had 10 different schools from March 10th and 11th alone where positive cases have been sent to BTU by the district, even with the limited grades and students opting in. That data alarms many members, especially those who are mandated back into buildings before completing their vaccine dose/s since six additional grades are now slated to return on top of the current load.“
High school students also now have the option to participate in spring sports with teams launching over the coming days.
"We’re very excited to finally get our student athletes back on the field," said Sarah Warren, executive director of whole child services and support. "We know it’s been a long wait for everybody but we were determined to do it but do it in a way that we were sure we could keep everybody safe."
Safety protocols include daily temperature checks, COVID screenings, masks even when playing and no fans at the games.
"We are hoping this will provide a real boost to some of our young people and also incentivize their participation and engagement in school more generally," said Warren.
School officials are also trying to pilot the asymptomatic testing for sports teams.
"It’s a little bit complicated to do it for our sports teams for reasons that are both logistical and financial but we are trying to figure that out," said Warren.
The rest of the grades not currently in-person have the option of returning for in-person learning in April.