COVID-19 Update

Michelle Wang and Katherine Schutzman

As a part of Baltimore County, the Dulaney community is doing the best that they can to make this school year safe and successful amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s been a difficult start to the year for many students, teachers and administrators, Dulaney High School is striving to make the transition as seamless as possible.

School Update on COVID

Dulaney has been working hard to improve mitigation strategies such as distributing resources to prevent the spread of COVID. Teachers have been provided with materials like hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies to keep classrooms clean, and students have been doing their part by wearing masks and following other safety protocols. Both Stephen Shaw, the science department chair at Dulaney, and Robert Murray, one of Dulaney’s assistant principals, commented that students have been doing an excellent job when it comes to wearing a mask. 

“They’ve done a really good job with trying to be cognizant of their fellow students,” Shaw said. “They’re compliant and willing to be part of the bigger picture.”

Regarding COVID cases, as of October 15th, there have been 15 confirmed at Dulaney. This is close to the average of other Baltimore County public high schools with an average of 14.1 cases since the start of the school year. Towson High School and Hereford High School have had 7 and 11 cases respectively.   

Though some states have had to revert to virtual learning, there is no current talk of a return to virtual school in BCPS. Because of the statewide mask mandate for schools, other states are not in as good of a position as Maryland is. However, BCPS is not without its struggles: even though school has only been in session for about two months, state testing has already been thrown into the mix. 

“It’s almost like they’re trying to make up for two years of missing spring testing,” Murray said. 

This abrupt addition of state testing has been stressful for students, who need to miss class in order to participate in testing, and stressful for administrators like Murray, who have to organize and assist with it.

Another pressing issue in the county is overcrowded buses. Currently, it does not seem like there’s much that can be done about the situation because there has been difficulty hiring more bus drivers. 

“I know that Dulaney is in very good shape compared to other schools,” Murray said. “Other schools … [are] waiting for their buses sometimes up to two hours after the close of the school day to get picked up because of the shortage of bus drivers and the number of kids.”

Student Response to COVID 

As school transitions back to fully in-person, questions have emerged about the school and county’s response to maintaining safety precautions in school. Dulaney has implemented numerous COVID mitigation strategies; however, there is still a mixed reaction from students. In general, Dulaney students feel safe in school with 62% of students giving Dulaney a favorable score in its COVID response. Regarding the mask mandates, a survey taken by 345 Dulaney students reported that 70% of students at Dulaney believe that masks should be required in school.

  Despite a generally positive reaction to Dulaney’s COVID response, students have expressed several concerns.  First, students feel that Dulaney can do better with enforcing the mask mandate. Numerous students have also expressed concerns about social distancing. Students would also like to see less overcrowded hallways, classrooms, cafeterias and stairwells. As Dulaney moves further into the school year, there is hope that more improvements will be made at the school and county level. 

BCPS Response to COVID

This school year, Baltimore County has implemented a variety of COVID mitigation strategies. In alignment with the Maryland mask mandate, all public schools require universal masking. BCPS itself is focusing on COVID tracking and improved safety protocols. For example, contact tracing has been widely implemented to prevent the spread of the virus by alerting students if they have interacted with a COVID positive individual in classes or extracurriculars. 

Christian Thomas, the Student Member on the Baltimore County Board of Education said, “For the most part, the mask mandate has been followed and executed very well.” In addition, he stated that BCPS has a good job with monitoring cases.

According to data from the COVID Data Dashboard, as of mid October,  BCPS has had 1,424 confirmed positive COVID cases since the beginning of the school year. The cases represent COVID cases of BCPS students, faculty, and staff across the 159 schools in the County. This represents a trend in rising cases in BCPS, placing the school system into the high transmission category under the CDC Threshold.  

A challenge that BCPS faces is the issue of how to approach students that are out of school quarantining. 

Thomas said that BCPS is “Making sure that those students are staying home so that they’re not spreading COVID-19 and ensuring  that they are still continuing learning and continuing their education and stay up to date on their class materials. Especially those students who have not contracted COVID but have to quarantine and are waiting for test results.”

Vaccination has also been a widely contested topic among students and families.  Thomas said that, “One thing that we can improve on is definitely getting the vaccination status of K-12 up…there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of vaccination sites in schools and throughout Baltimore County but we really need to be pushing for our youth to be vaccinated.”

BCPS has been implementing new measures to control the spread of COVID. Starting on October 11th, 2021, BCPS required staff to provide proof of full vaccination and individuals who have not been vaccinated are required to have weekly vaccination testing. Likewise, the staff vaccination rates remain high with less than 9.9% of the staff requiring weekly testing.

Schools Returning to Virtual Learning 

The return to in-person learning has been quite an adjustment for most students. However, in some states like Mississippi and Georgia, hundreds of students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 within a week of the first day of in-person school and had no choice but to return to virtual instruction. Other states are offering in-person options, as well as virtual options. However, the one main difference between these high-risk schools and public schools in Baltimore County is masking regulations. In August of 2021, the Maryland State Board of Education released a statewide mask mandate, and it is currently still in place. This mandate, along with higher vaccination rates, has likely contributed to how BCPS has been able to prevent large COVID-19 outbreaks and avoid returning to virtual learning.

Vaccination Rates 

According to the same survey mentioned above, approximately 89% of Dulaney students self-reported being vaccinated. While this does seem like a very positive response, Baltimore County as a whole has not been nearly as successful when it comes to vaccination rates. As of September 2021, only 68.4% of Baltimore County’s population has been vaccinated, and only 64.9% of all eligible students in Maryland have been vaccinated. The FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine boosted vaccination levels back in August, but many people who are eligible to get the vaccine are still opposed to it for reasons such as worries of it being ineffective. There are also people in Baltimore County who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, possibly because of age restrictions or medical conditions.

Booster Shots 

The CDC has been increasingly recommending Americans to get their COVID-19 booster shots. This urgency comes amidst the rise in the Delta variant. Research has also shown that the vaccines have begun to wane several months after recipients receive their first dose. From the current CDC guidelines, booster shots are available for the Pfizer vaccine for those who are 65 years and older or others over 18 who have underlying medical conditions, work in high-risk settings, or live in high-risk settings. Individuals are recommended to get a booster shot if they have been fully vaccinated for at least 6 months. 

Writer’s note: If any students have concerns about BCPS’s COVID mitigation strategies, the SMOB encourages all students to share those concerns with the Board of Education. They encourage everyone to email the Board of Education at the email address [email protected] with these concerns. All of the board members review these concerns and would love to hear from students.