The Montgomery County Board of Health held a special meeting today to consider an order that would mandate all K-12 schools (public, private, etc.) to move to a virtual model for two weeks starting November 23rd. The order would also cancel all extracurricular activities and sports.
Janet Panning, MS, Interim Health Administrator of the Montgomery County Office of Public Health placed the need to issue this order on the gatherings that will take place over the Thanksgiving holiday. She then read through the text of the order, which recognized the recent spike in case numbers and hospitalizations.
Michel Masters, MPH, Division Director, Communicable Disease Control & Prevention, of the Montgomery County Office of Public Health, went further into the numbers and stressed holiday gatherings, other events, and sports as the potential source of spread.
The meeting then moved to public comment. Parents, school and school district officials, and others seized on the lack of data showing schools are a source of the virus spreading. Other issues brought up were mental health considerations, processes in place in schools to mitigate the virus (which they have done successfully), virtual education not being effective, and equity issues involving students with individualized education programs. There were also concerns that once a move to virtual is made, it will be extended into 2021. All but one person commenting was against the order. Overall, the plea was for the board to make a recommendation and allow districts and schools to make their own decision.
A few things to point out:
- The Board of Health is an unelected board appointed by the Montgomery County Commissioners
- At one point during public comment, someone asked where the idea for this order originated. The answer was with Montgomery County Commissioner Dr. Val Arkoosh and the CHOP Policy Lab
- During public comment, people kept saying that bars and restaurants were a source of spread. That isn’t the case. While initially during the pandemic the state pointed to bars and restaurants as an issue, in recent months (even while bars and restaurants opened up more) in Montgomery County the focus on where the virus was spreading has been small gatherings and off-the-field activities surrounding sports.
In the end, the board voted to recess until November 12th at noon. No decision was made.