Good news for parents and sad news for kids: It’s Back to School Time here in Calvert. It’s worth a few minutes to understand where we are in terms of covid guidelines and what you need to know about our latest infectious disease, monkeypox. The quick take-homes are that:
Covid continues to spread, but we understand a lot more about how to keep ourselves safer
Monkeypox to this point presents very little risk to students (see a separate post for more information)
Covid transmission has been at high levels since shortly after spring break in April. This coincides with the latest variants, BA.5 (approximately 90% of current infections) and BA.4. In Calvert, we have seen close to 500 cases each week when factoring in infections diagnosed by home tests and those performed in doctors’ offices. Every county in Maryland has seen persistently high transmission rates. Although hospitalizations are significantly lower than they were during waves of previous covid variants, nearly 500 Marylanders, including 10-12 children, have been hospitalized with covid each week over the summer. 6-7 Marylanders (almost all over age 50) continue to die every day as a result of covid infections. In addition to severe acute illness, medical experts across the country are concerned about the effect of long covid on both adults and children. As we start the school year, the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health have instituted fewer covid-related restrictions on students and school staff. Here are the highlights: Individuals infected with covid will need to stay home for at least 5 days after onset of symptoms. As long as the student or staff member does not have fever and symptoms are improving, she/he can return to school on Day 6 after the onset of illness. On days 6-10, she/he should wear a face covering for the safety of others in the classroom, bus, or other enclosed settings. Although the potential to infect others declines after the 5th day, people can continue to transmit the virus to others through Day 10. If someone is diagnosed with covid but never had symptoms, for example taking a test before seeing their grandparents, the 5-day isolation period begins the day the test is performed. For students who cannot wear a face covering due to chronic health conditions or developmental disability, it is recommended to perform a rapid test on Day 6. If the test is negative, the student may return to class. The biggest change from last year is that there is no automatic quarantine for students or staff exposed to someone with covid. Anyone who has been in close contact to an infected individual should be carefully monitored for symptoms of illness. Out of consideration to the
health of others, they should also wear a face covering for the next 10 days unless they are physically unable. If symptoms develop after exposure, the individual should stay home until they can be tested. If someone has a PCR test that is sent to a laboratory, a single test is sufficient. If a rapid testing is used and is negative, it is recommended to perform a second test 24-hours later since the ability to diagnose infection with a rapid test is more limited than a PCR. Ideally, an exposed individual should be tested 4-5 days after exposure to detect asymptomatic infections (the average incubation period with BA.4 and BA.5 is 3-4 days). If this test is negative, the person should continue to wear a face covering since the onset of infection can occur up until Day 10. Schools have improved the air quality in classrooms and other indoor settings by maximizing ventilation and filtration. This will help reduce the concentration of all respiratory viruses. Most staff and middle and high school students were vaccinated against covid. This will also reduce infections. Vaccinations will continue to play a key role. We anticipate the availability of newly reformulated Pfizer and Moderna vaccines shortly after the start of the school year. These vaccines will directly drive antibody production against the BA.5 and BA.4 strains. As mentioned above, these two variants currently account for almost 100% of covid infections. Boosters with the new formulations should markedly reduce both infections and hospitalizations as we head into the fall and winter. The Health Department encourages everyone who is eligible for boosters with the new covid formulation to take advantage of improved protection. Flu vaccination should also be a part of routine preventive health care. It is important to keep in mind that one person’s health impacts the health of many others. Not only does each infected person have the potential to pass illness to others, but every preventable hospitalization places stress on the nurses and doctors at our hospital. Especially as we head toward flu season, keeping hospital beds available and preventing exhaustion among medical staff keeps all of us safer. Regardless of whether someone has a heart attack, a ruptured appendix, a car crash, or goes into labor, we all need care at some point. It is in everyone’s self-interest to take action now to protect themselves and those close to them.
We at the Calvert Health Department wish everyone a safe and productive school year. We have learned a lot about reducing risks from covid over the past 2 years. Like any good student, it is time to put that knowledge to work.