Quarantined for Contact Tracing

Emma Heyse, Staff Writer

   On Aug. 30, 2021, Montgomery County Public Schools opened their doors for in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. With in-person learning came a high risk for students to contract the Coronavirus so MCPS put in place strict guidelines for schools to follow. With the student-to-teacher ratio 17-1, which is higher than in previous years, many administrators have taken on the challenging role of contact tracing students who may have been exposed to COVID. 

    In September, Montgomery County reached its peak of quarantine cases with a total of 5,480. With COVID cases increasing, people wondered whether schools would start to shut down as cases rose. This was not the case. On Oct. 27, MCPS revised its quarantine policies and individuals who have been exposed to the virus are not required to quarantine unless they are told otherwise. According to MCPS if someone tests positive, administrators are instructed to contact trace students who were “6 feet from someone who tests positive, for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over the course of 24 hours, or less than 3 feet in a classroom setting.”

   Since school started nearly two months ago the contact tracing process has been “changing a lot with Montgomery County,” school community health nurse Michelle Bowlin said. 

   One 11th grade student who was quarantined less than a month after school started had a difficult experience.

   “I was honestly overwhelmed and stressed out because most of my teachers made me make up the work I missed which was challenging because I missed a lot of instruction,” the student said.  “It was still difficult to get the work done because I fell back into the habit of going on my phone instead of doing my work. And being at home for 10 days straight really took a toll on my mental health.” The student, who asked to remain anonymous, also said that it was “frustrating” not being able to go back to school “even though I tested negative for COVID after being exposed.” 

   MCPS is doing what it can to keep school buildings open.

   “There’s been a very big push to keep students in school,” Bowlin said. She also said that many schools are in the process of starting a “test to stay program,” which will allow students who were exposed to COVID to be able to stay in school as long as they get tested every day for 10 days and don’t show any symptoms. According to the MCPS website, the “test to stay program” does not apply to situations that are “high-risk settings” or activities such as “indoor or high-contact athletics, and indoor forced exhalation activities, such as singing, exercising, or playing a wind or brass instrument.” 

   “Wow, it sounds like a great alternative option, I wish that program existed when I was quarantined because it would have saved me a lot of time,” the junior said.