HCPSS Masking and Health & Safety Updates, Feb. 25, 2022
February 25th, 2022
UPDATE: Feb. 27, 2022
An earlier version of this message indicated masks would be required on school buses, due to federal regulations. Soon after the HCPSS message, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the requirement that people wear masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems. As such, effective March 1, 2022, masks will be optional in HCPSS buildings and on school buses. The information below has been updated and is accurate as of Feb. 27, 2022.
The following statement was issued by HCPSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano on Feb. 25, 2022, and was updated on Feb. 27, 2022:
At its meeting on Feb. 24, 2022, the Howard County Board of Education voted to make face coverings optional, based on the Maryland State Department of Education’s off-ramp option one for school districts to lift mask requirements.
Effective Tuesday, March 1, the universal indoor masking in HCPSS buildings is no longer required. Any student, staff or visitor may choose to wear a mask, and should feel comfortable doing so. Schools and offices will continue to have additional masks available as needed.
Shifting to optional mask-wearing impacts a number of other areas. I would like to provide clarity on those, as well as additional mitigation strategies still in place:
Masks in Buildings
All students, staff and visitors will be able to choose if they wish to wear a mask in HCPSS buildings. While optional, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts continue to recommend face masks as a precautionary measure.
Please note that per the CDC, masks are required in healthcare settings, so students and staff must continue to wear a mask in school health rooms.
Masks on School Buses
The CDC recently changed its federal order and no longer requires people to wear masks on public transportation school buses or vans. Consequently, mask-wearing on HCPSS school buses will be optional.
COVID Cases in Schools, Contact Tracing and Cohort Identification
HCPSS will continue to isolate students that are exhibiting COVID-like illness and perform diagnostic testing for staff and students who present with symptoms in HCPSS buildings. When students and staff are identified and diagnosed with COVID-19, those individuals will be placed in isolation and sent home to isolate for a minimum period of five days.
HCPSS will only be conducting household-level contact tracing. The school system will no longer identify students in close proximity to a student or staff member with COVID-19. HCPSS will continue to work with the Howard County Health Department to identify outbreaks, including cohort outbreaks. Families will be notified if their child is part of an outbreak, and students and staff members whose vaccination status is not up to date will still be asked to quarantine.
Persons not up-to-date on vaccinations who are household contacts or identified as part of an outbreak will be expected to quarantine for five days with the earliest return date on day six from their exposure to the infected individual. The student or staff member must wear a mask in order to return to work/school on day six for the next 5 days, or will need to remain home for the full 10 days and return on day 11 at the earliest, per Maryland Department of Health (MDH) guidelines. If during quarantine, the student/staff member develops symptoms, they should immediately isolate and get tested for COVID-19.
Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be expected to isolate for five days with the earliest return date on day six from the onset of symptoms or the date of the test if asymptomatic. The student or staff member must wear a mask in order to return to work/school on day six for the next 5 days, or will need to remain home for the full 10 days and return on day 11 at the earliest, per MDH guidelines. To return to work/school, the student/staff must be fever-free for a minimum of 24 hours without medication and have improvement of symptoms.
Students will continue to be able to eat outdoors, as permitted by weather and staff coverage. Plexiglass dividers will no longer be in place on elementary school and sixth-grade lunch tables.
Other Mitigation Strategies
Other mitigation measures including building ventilation improvements and the COVID-19 testing requirements for unvaccinated student-athletes and staff, remain in place. All staff and contractors are permitted to use the testing sites as needed. As a reminder, students and staff should continue to perform a health check every day before entering HCPSS buildings. No staff or student should go to school or an office if they are experiencing symptom(s) associated with any communicable disease, including COVID-19.
I want to underscore the importance of respecting an individual’s choice in whether or not they will continue to wear a mask at school or in our offices. Every student and staff member should feel encouraged and supported to make the decision they feel most comfortable with. We will remind students and staff to practice civility and respect the choices of others when it comes to masking, and I seek your support and collaboration in reinforcing and modeling this behavior for your children. System and school leaders will work to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and students as we make this transition.