Somerset schools grapple with ‘alarming’ rates of COVID cases

About 7% of students in Somerset County public schools have tested positive for COVID-19 since August 2021. Some Somerset public schools, like Crisfield Academy and High School, have cumulative positive case rates above 9%.

Maryland schools have had varying rates of positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Some counties, such as Somerset, have had particularly high rates of positive cases within their schools compared to their respective school populations.

“Our case rates are alarming and we are devoting a significant amount of human resources to managing our contact tracing as a result,” Victoria Miele, Somerset Schools public relations specialist, wrote in an email. “We are also hiring additional staff through a grant we recently awarded through the health department to manage the day-to-day workload and relationship with our health department. “

Somerset County public schools have experienced high COVID positivity rates since the start of the school year.

Crisfield Academy and High School has the highest positivity rate among students in Somerset schools. More than 9% of the overall student body has tested positive for the virus since August.

Including Crisfield, three of the county’s nine schools have had more than 7% of the student body testing positive in the four months since public schools reverted to in-person teaching.

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The other two schools, Somerset Intermediate Elementary School and Carter G. Woodson Elementary School, both had almost 8% of the school population tested positive.

This trend is maintained when positive COVID-19 cases from staff are included with students. Schools that had a high number of student cases also saw a high number of staff cases.

Somerset County has the lowest vaccination rate of any Eastern Shore counties in Maryland, with 46% of the county’s population fully vaccinated, compared to the overall vaccination rate of 67% for Maryland, according to the New York Times COVID Dashboard.

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With the recent approval of vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 and ongoing efforts to immunize children in Maryland, some school systems, such as Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and Howard County, have encouraged parents to have their children immunized.

However, Somerset County Public Schools took a different stance.

“The Somerset Board of Education is neutral when it comes to the vaccination of students. The belief is that it is the parents’ choice to make medical decisions for their child, not the school district, ”Miele wrote.

According to Miele, the Somerset County Health Department has set up makeshift vaccination clinics for the 12 to 17 age group at their schools in the past. Miele said the school did the same for the 5 to 11 year old age group.

“We gave space in our elementary schools this month to the Somerset Health Department to run immunization clinics for this age group, but it is a health department. initiative, not a SCPS initiative, ”Miele wrote.

In Wicomico County, schools hosted the county health department for immunization clinics, with parents present for the injections.

There are four vaccination clinics in total in Somerset, according to the Maryland Coronavirus Vaccination Clinic page and the Somerset County Department of Health. Somerset is among the four counties of the nine east coast counties with the highest number of residents per clinic.

Somerset has a population of 25,616 people, according to the US Census Bureau, approximately 6,404 people for each clinic. The other three counties, Cecil, Caroline and Queen Anne, range from about 6,700 to about 7,350 people per clinic.

The other five counties on the east coast have between about 3,000 and about 5,750 people per clinic.

Somerset County had the highest poverty rate of any east coast counties in 2019 at 23.6%, according to the 2019 US Census. Other east coast counties poverty rates vary by 6% at 16%.

“We are also extremely rural (the county’s population is around 26,000) and such a large percentage of our students live below the poverty line that we receive the majority of our funding from the state and all students. receive free school meals. We also know that there are higher rates of COVID among underserved populations for a variety of documented reasons, ”Miele said.

Following: Masks in schools: Maryland Board of Education moves towards “exit ramps” to lift masking

Following: Somerset County Schools Add Six Days of Early Termination to Calendar

Less affluent populations are at greater risk of COVID-19 due to pre-existing conditions, such as heart and respiratory disease, which are more common in this group, according to the Brookings Institution. Additionally, the ability to practice social distancing and work from home is less likely.

The lack of reliable internet services is also affecting the ability to quickly switch to online learning, according to Miele.

“Somerset County can’t just switch to virtual education when rates go up like other districts can. We also lack reliable internet throughout the county. And many services for these underserved students cannot be provided remotely. It has been a very difficult few years in school, to say the least, ”Miele said.

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