COVID-19 Rapid Testing Begins; Quarantine Policy Adjusted
The following email was sent to MCPS families on Tuesday, Sept. 21. In case you missed it, you can read it below.
Dear MCPS Community,
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has important updates regarding COVID-19 testing and procedures for quarantining students. These changes are a result of the availability of rapid testing and revised guidance from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), outlined in a Sept. 16 letter from Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of DHHS. With the availability of rapid tests in all schools, close contacts of an individual displaying COVID-19 symptoms will not have to quarantine unless the ill student tests positive for COVID-19 or if the level of exposure cannot be reliably confirmed.
We are optimistic these adjustments will reduce quarantining of close contacts, while continuing to keep our students and staff safe. Helpful resources to help families navigate the updated procedures will be available in the coming days. Information about in-school testing and quarantines is summarized below:
Rapid tests are now available in all schools
Schools received rapid (antigen) tests by Sept. 13, and these are being used when a student exhibits COVID-19 symptoms on-site during the school day. School health staff use low nasal swabs on the symptomatic student and the results are available within 15-20 minutes.
Parents/guardians must give their consent for rapid testing
Families can fill out the consent form, which is available in multiple languages online, or request paper copies from their school. If there is no consent form on file, parents will be called to give their verbal consent and school health staff will send home a consent form along with additional information about the test results.
If families have already submitted a consent form for the COVID-19 screening tests, no further action is required. MCPS will accept consent forms received for the screening test program as consent for rapid testing. Consent for both the random screening test program and rapid testing have been consolidated into one form.
Symptomatic student with a negative rapid test: no quarantine of close contacts, but exceptions based on follow-up PCR test
If a student with COVID-19 symptoms tests negative on the rapid test, it is recommended that the student follow up with a PCR test.
- While awaiting the results of the PCR test, close contacts do not need to quarantine.
- If the PCR test is negative, close contacts do not need to quarantine.
- If the PCR test is positive, unvaccinated close contacts will need to quarantine.
If a parent does not consent to the rapid test for their child, or follow-up PCR test, unvaccinated close contacts of the child will not be required to quarantine unless the symptomatic child has had a known exposure to COVID-19 or if the level of exposure cannot be reliably confirmed. DHHS has indicated that based on the rapid tests to date they “expect that this circumstance will not arise often.”
Symptomatic student with a positive rapid test: unvaccinated close contacts must quarantine for 10 days
If a student with COVID-19 symptoms tests positive on the rapid test, unvaccinated students who were in close contact with the symptomatic student will be required to quarantine for 10 days. Unvaccinated students who have been identified as close contacts to a confirmed COVID-19 case must complete the full 10-day quarantine and may not test out and return prior to completing the full 10 days.
Random screening tests continue and will be expanded beyond Grade 6
COVID-19 screening tests for individual students began in Grade PreK-6 and will be expanded to all other grades in the upcoming weeks. These are weekly tests of a random sample of students and require the consent of a parent/guardian. The same consent form is now used for both the screening and rapid tests so families only need to sign one form for each child.
COVID-19 testing will help us keep schools open and safe
Testing is an important prevention strategy that will help us keep schools open and safe and help to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This strategy, along with mandatory vaccinations for staff, masks, hand-washing, maximizing the use of outdoor spaces, and staying home when sick will help to keep students learning in school, five days a week while keeping them and staff members safe. All parents/guardians are encouraged to submit a consent form for free COVID-19 testing for their child.
MCPS will continue to follow the guidance of our local DHHS health experts who may need to adjust their recommendations if local conditions change. MCPS will be ready to update our protocols in that event.