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Baltimore Catholic schools to go virtual for three days after Thanksgiving

Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic schools will suspend in-person learning for three days after the Thanksgiving holiday to monitor students and staff for symptoms of the coronavirus, officials said this week.

“We realize this announcement may cause an inconvenience for your family, but hope you understand the necessity,” Chancellor of Education James Sellinger and Superintendent Donna Hargens wrote in a letter to parents. “It is important that we take this extra measure to allow for monitoring of potential symptoms and, if necessary, time to secure evidence of appropriate COVID-19 test results.”

Cases of COVID-19 have risen dramatically in recent weeks in Maryland and across the country, prompting governors to return to some of the restrictions put in place during the early days of the pandemic. Many public health officials fear that next week’s Thanksgiving holiday will cause a larger uptick in cases as extended families gather indoors without masks to celebrate the holiday.

Health officials have urged Americans to avoid travel and to only celebrate the Thanksgiving meal with their immediate household. While some will heed the warning, many others have said they intend to celebrate the holiday as they normally would. U.S. airlines have reported an increase in last-minute travel bookings for the week of Thanksgiving.

The Maryland State Department of Health reported 2,910 new cases Nov. 19, the largest daily case total since the pandemic began in March and the 15th straight day of reporting more than 1,000 cases. The state’s seven-day positivity rate was 7.19 percent. Health officials recommend that metric should ideally be under 5 percent for people to resume most public activities safely.

Parts of the Midwest now have a positivity rate of more than 30 percent.

The return to in-person learning has been cited as one of the few bright spots in the pandemic. Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic Schools returned to in-person instruction in August while most Baltimore-area public school districts decided only to offer virtual instruction. While there have been some cases reported among Catholic students, there have been no major outbreaks, archdiocesan Catholic school officials said.

When any cases were reported among Catholic school students or staff, any students that could have been affected quickly switched to online instruction. Lauren Robinson, a spokeswoman for Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic Schools, said the vigilant and disciplined approach to COVID-19 mitigation has made it possible for the return to the classroom to be successful.

Robinson said although decisions on in-person learning are made on a school-by-school basis, she expects overall that in-person learning will continue.

“As of today, our plan is to bring everyone back for in-person instruction” Dec. 3, she said. “However, we will continue to monitor the data.”

On average, children under 10 appear to be less susceptible to contracting serious cases of COVID-19. This applies also to teenagers, but to a lesser extent. These factors have allowed many major school systems such as the New York City public school system to offer in-person instruction this fall without major outbreaks.

This week, New York City decided to suspend in-person learning as the number of cases rose in the city, which was the epicenter of the initial wave of cases in March. Even in New York City, where more than 30,000 people died of COVID-19 in a matter of weeks, people have pushed back against the decision to suspend in-person learning, calling it an overreaction.

Email Tim Swift at tswift@CatholicReview.org

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