By Adam Pagnucco.
In the wake of MCEA’s resolution expressing no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan, County Executive Marc Elrich and county health officer Travis Gayles were asked by the press today whether they agreed with MCEA or MCPS. Following is a transcription of their comments.
Question from Tom Fitzgerald, Fox 5 DC:
Question about schools. A lot of us got a news release yesterday from Montgomery County Education Association which says in part that they were passing a lack of confidence resolution. Quote: “The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented, requiring more resources, more people, more space and more time and not negatively impacting students’ learning experience.” This is for Dr. Gayles and the county executive. Understanding what we just said about not wanting to open things up to have things rebound, I guess the simple question is are they right? Is the plan that’s been presented in a position to not be successfully implemented?
County health officer Travis Gayles:
I can speak from a health perspective. I’m not privy to those conversations between the union and MCPS and so forth. What I can say is this: is that the guidance that we have provided continues to be the same and is consistent with the metrics and measures that we put out in the fall using the state guidelines as well as the CDC guidelines in terms of metrics and markers where we thought it would be safe to come back related to test positivity and community transmission rate as evidenced by case rates.
And the numbers that we have are moving in that direction, which is favorable. What’s also different now than before, which again I continue to emphasize, is that we are seeing teachers and education staff get vaccinated and have access to that. I do think it is important for them to be able to have access to at least one shot before going back into the classroom. I know some may say that’s controversial given some of the CDC guidance but I do think we should continue to ensure that they have access to that as an added layer of protection when they go into the classroom.
Based upon… Dr. Stoddard and I, we meet regularly with our colleagues at MCPS, and based upon the tremendous amount of work that they have put into planning and coming up with different provisions and safety measures to put into the classrooms to mitigate transmission, we feel that they have done their due diligence in that and continue to refine. Though that said, I think if anyone should be concerned, going back into work for person-to-person, but we do feel that they have put a lot of effort in terms of coming up with different contingency plans and safety measures to mitigate transmission as much as possible. And we will certainly continue to… again, we don’t make those decisions, so again, for everybody at home, the health department does not make the decisions whether or not schools open, but we will continue to again monitor our guidance that we have provided to them based upon the surveillance information we have at hand.
County Executive Marc Elrich:
I haven’t read everything the school system’s proposed. I understand concerns about whether ventilation issues and other things have been adequately addressed, or how many people are going to be in a classroom because… as a former teacher, if I had the regular sized class in a regular sized classroom, I would never achieve the separation that people want. So I would want to look at how they are gonna deal with the number of kids who are brought back into classrooms.
And I think the big thing that gets lost in all of this is we talk about Montgomery County as if Montgomery County were all the same. And the truth is, and this is one reason why we’ve been focused on equity issues, there are parts of the county that do really, really well. I mean, our positivity and cases per hundred thousand is the total for the entire county – they are not evenly distributed across the county. You can look at zip codes, and we’ve got zip code maps, and you’ll see far more cases and far more apparent transmission per hundred thousand and you’ll see other zip codes where you don’t see many cases and you have, and you extrapolate much lower likelihood of transmission. So I understand that people would look at different neighborhoods and have different concerns about where you were teaching and what’s the environment and what’s the positivity rather than just looking at countywide numbers. I think there is something to be said for thinking about that.