MCPS remains open after three Montgomery County residents tested positive for coronavirus

RM+sophomore+Emily+Wu+wears+a+mask+to+school+as+protection+against+the+recent+outbreak+of+COVID-19+in+Montgomery+County.+

Photo by Lynna Deng

RM sophomore Emily Wu wears a mask to school as protection against the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Montgomery County.

By Grace Burwell, Emily Chen, Faith Cheung, Mary Ma, Helen Qian, Ashley Ye, Clare Zhang, and Shevani Tewari

Update from March 9, 8:57 a.m.: According to Bethesda Magazine, two more Maryland residents have tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, March 8. As of today, there are four positive cases in Montgomery County and one in Hartford County, totaling to five total in the state of Maryland.

On Thursday, March 5, Governor Larry Hogan confirmed the first three cases of COVID-19 in Maryland in Montgomery County, declaring a state of emergency. “I am officially authorizing and directing the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to ramp up coordination among all state and local agencies and enable them to fast-track coordination with our state and local health departments and emergency management teams,” Hogan said in a statement on Thursday. 

A press release sent out to Montgomery County on Thursday evening stated that the three people affected by the virus are a married couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s. The Washington Post reported that the patients contracted the disease after returning from an overseas cruise that did not visit China, the only country that flagged as a potential source of coronavirus at the time. According to the article, the patients are “mildly to moderately ill” and are currently quarantined in their homes located in Montgomery County. 

According to Bethesda Magazine, Maryland’s deputy secretary for public health services Frances Phillips announced that the three confirmed patients returned to Maryland on Feb. 20, 14 days before being confirmed for COVID-19. Later on Thursday evening, an MCPS message sent to the community wrote that state officials “do not believe these individuals have had contact with MCPS students,” later confirming that schools would remain open. Currently, state officials are investigating the cases. 

In an interview with WTOP, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, who is in charge of making the decision to close schools, said that there is currently no exact criteria for closure but that all aspects of the situation will be monitored and analyzed. “There’s no hard and fast criteria, in terms of being able to say if five cases happen, this is what we would do. I would just emphasize that we would look at all of those factors of information to make a decision that’s also in concert with our state officials,” Gayles said.

I will keep you informed every step of the way, as new information is shared.”

— Mr. Monteleone

Principal Damon Monteleone addressed the confirmed coronavirus cases in Montgomery County on the RM morning announcements on Friday and urged students to continue practicing safe preventative methods, such as eating healthy, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of fluids and thoroughly washing hands. “As a reminder, best practices include what we normally do to avoid any flu virus—keep your immune system strong by eating well, get enough sleep, maintain low stress level, and drink lots of water, consistently wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with a lot of soap before rinsing and always avoid touching your face,” Mr. Monteleone said.

Mr. Monteleone also alerted the school community of a countywide meeting for principals later on Friday morning. “I want to let everyone know that I will be attending a meeting with MCPS officials and all high school principals at 9 a.m. to receive an update on district plans. I will keep you informed every step of the way, as new information is shared,” Mr. Monteleone said. “I encourage you to remain vigilant through the situation, consult with your health provider if you are experiencing symptoms that you may believe to be related to a virus.”

Many students like senior Vickie Tan are continuing to go about their days as normal, with these extra precautions in mind. “I wouldn’t say I’m panicked or anything; it’s just now I have to be more careful about washing my hands and other sorts of things like that, and just being more hyper-aware in public about how germs are spread,” Tan said.

Families in the community have also made preparations in case the number of cases increases. “In terms of my family, we’ve stocked up on some food at home in case someone announces a quarantine or something. We have some hand sanitizer and that sort of thing at home to kill germs and make sure we’re staying hygienic,” Tan said.

I have to be more careful about washing my hands and other sorts of things like that, and just being more hyper-aware in public about how germs are spread.”

— Vickie Tan

According to The Washington Post, as of Friday morning, 41 Maryland residents have been tested for coronavirus in total, and 26 have come back negative. 12 are still pending.

Maryland and Montgomery County health officials are currently trying to determine all points of contact the victims have in the time between arriving home and being tested. At a news conference in Rockville on Friday, Gayles said that state investigators have conducted in-depth, “contact tracing” interviews with all three patients either over the phone or while wearing protective gear. 

At the Friday news conference, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said, “There is no reason to panic. Life as you know it should continue pretty much as it was.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease have been shown to be at higher risk if they contract COVID-19 and have a higher mortality rate. There is no evidence that children are more susceptible, and most reported cases worldwide have been in adults.

“This novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease—it’s not causing very severe infections in the young so far. But they seem to be carriers of the virus. And we don’t have very good data on that yet because we’re not testing for it to see because the tests are limited,” biology teacher Wendy Sparks said.

The steps now are more about spreading the load on the burden on the health system.”

— Dr. Sparks

“In terms of looking out for your community, most people are going to be fine,” Dr. Sparks said, “but it’s thinking about who also in your family, or in your community, is more susceptible. Making sure that they have the care they need, but also maintaining your space from them if you think you just don’t know what you’ve been exposed to.” 

As reported in an article by Politico, CDC officials have stated that the spread of COVID-19 to more states and communities is an inevitability. “Ultimately, we will see community spread in this country,” Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in February. “It’s not a question of if but rather a question of when and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

“I think there’s still a lot of people who think that this virus can actually be stopped, whereas the worldwide data shows that it’s not like SARS or measles, where it’s very clear who has it and you can quarantine them and eradicate the virus,” Dr. Sparks said. “This one has too many asymptomatic carriers. So really, the steps now are more about spreading the load on the burden on the health system.”

This story was originally published on The Tide on March 6, 2020.