MCPS should continue contact tracing


Photo courtesy by Jack Stashower

Since MCPS lifted the mask mandate, students have been more at risk at developing an illness.

Contact tracing is a very important tool in limiting Covid exposure before it gets out of hand. Letting students know that their classmates or project partners are sick is a great way to limit the spread of Covid by reminding students and staff to follow CDC guidelines. Then in early May MCPS stopped doing this, and a week later I tested positive.

I freaked out. My first thought was, “Who have I been hanging out with? Who do I sit next to in class?” I let my friends know instantly, but despite the fast response six of my friends contracted Covid. It sucked. I could barely walk around without feeling the sudden rush of nausea. I could practically memorize every little detail of my room by day 4. It wasn’t fun, but I’m vaccinated and have no underlying health problems.

I got off lucky but I couldn’t shake off the feeling of guilt that I may have spread it to someone who can’t fight it off as easily. What if someone’s grandparents are in town? What if their parents have a condition that may limit their ability to fight Covid?

“The school didn’t contact me, but I sort of expected them not to.” said an anonymous student. “Luckily I was completely asymptomatic when I tested positive. I was relaxing for a week.”

My biggest fear was that I couldn’t contact all my classmates, which is exactly what contact tracing is for. The school has these numbers, I don’t. Cases were going down until May, the month MCPS stopped contact tracing. Why change the system if it’s working?

“I’ve heard nothing from the school.” said sophomore Matias Hazbon. “Three people sitting near me all tested positive and the school didn’t let me know.”

With all that being said, things are undeniably getting better. Mostly everyone I know has received two doses of the Covid vaccine. We understand the virus more than we did two years ago and we’re finally no longer required to wear masks in school. I rarely wear my mask anymore. We’re starting to treat Covid like we treat the flu, and that’s fine. Vaccines have allowed life to resume to what it was, almost. But the truth is Covid is more serious and infectious than the flu, and cases are rising. In April, it was rare to see over 1000 new cases reported in a day in Maryland. Now we’re averaging 4000 reported cases a day. If I knew earlier on that I had been exposed to Covid I could’ve taken more precautions before going into school, but I went in not knowing anything. I ended up exposing a lot of people unintentionally. I’m not asking for stricter protocols or the return of masks, I’m asking MCPS to tell me why half of my 7th-period class is missing.

Even with the vaccine lowering hospitalizations significantly, Covid is still a burden to fight. My lungs were inflamed. My Dad didn’t start feeling better until the 8th day. I’d never seen my Mom so energy-deprived. It was hard to see them fight the virus, but they were vaccinated and healthy. I knew they’d be fine. That’s not a guarantee everyone in the world has. I know a lot of people with underlying health problems, including family and friends. I’m constantly worried sick about my grandma.

It’s not fair to start treating the virus as an afterthought because most people’s experiences with it are less than extreme. I’m not asking for strict protocols. I’m simply asking that MCPS let us students know if we were exposed to Covid at school. I know it’s hard to admit to having Covid, but it could end up saving lives if everyone was a little more careful. While the burden is on us, MCPS should do the bare minimum to help keep us safe and that starts with resuming contact tracing. We shouldn’t lay low on a disease we don’t fully understand. There is no reason to halt contact tracing when we are still living through a pandemic where those vulnerable could die.