COVID-19 infiltrates Easton Elementary School

Talbot County Public Schools confirmed its first case of the coronavirus among its students and staff Tuesday, Oct. 20 — within one week of its hybrid reopening for elementary schoolers. The county health department said the infected individual was removed from the school building and is isolating.

EASTON — An individual at Easton Elementary School is confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus. The person’s infection comes within one week of the district reopening its elementary schools to students amid the pandemic.

The infected person was removed from the school building and is isolating, according to the Talbot County Health Department. Talbot County Public Schools declined to say Tuesday, Oct. 20, whether the person was a student, teacher or staff member.

TCPS Spokesperson Debbie Gardner said the county health department is tracing the individual’s contacts and advising them of their potential exposure to the virus. Any classroom or office where an individual who has tested positive has been present, the district said, will undergo a thorough cleaning.

While the virus’s infiltration of schools was inevitable in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, this individual’s infection came just days after Talbot County opened its elementary schools to prekindergarten through fifth-graders for in-person classes on Oct. 12.

Despite the positive case at Easton Elementary, the public schools system continued with its plan to invite sixth through 12th-graders back into middle and high school buildings starting on Monday, Oct. 19.

Nearly 3,000 of the county’s roughly 4,700 public schools students opted to return for in-person schooling two days each week in an AA/BB day hybrid learning model. The model involves students being in classes of no more than 14 classmates all day either on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, and learning online on days when they’re not in the classroom.

The district said County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley and TCPS Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith are evaluating local health data daily and following existing guidelines for school outbreaks to make decisions about public schooling in the county.

“To date, we have not had a scenario that has indicated a need to interrupt the Hybrid model,” Gardner said. She said TCPS, as of Tuesday evening, was not aware of additional confirmed positive virus cases within its schools.

“Should a scenario arise that meets the criteria for closure of a classroom or school for the safety of teachers, students and staff, TCPS will follow the direction of the health officer concerning closure,” the district said in a statement, adding, “The health and safety of our staff and students is our highest priority.”

TCPS staff are not tested regularly for the coronavirus. “At this time, this is not recommended by our state or local health department,” the district said.

The schools system said close contacts of individuals who are infected with the virus within Talbot schools are told to stay home for 14 days from the date of last exposure, even if they have no symptoms or their COVID-19 test comes back negative during quarantine.

Any person who exhibits COVID-19-like illness or has tested positive for COVID-19, the district said, is allowed to return to school once they meet three criteria: their symptoms’ onset was at least 10 days ago; they exhibit no fever for at least 24 hours without medication; and their symptoms improve.

When asked whether parents and students should feel confident about school attendees’ safety from the coronavirus health threat during in-person schooling, TCPS said its schools “will continue to adhere to the safety procedures and protocols outlined in the TCPS Recovery Plan in order to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19.”

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