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Health Officer Delivers Optimistic News about COVID Cases

By Barbara A. Preston l March 3, 2021

Montgomery Health Officer Stephanie Carey said the county’s recent move to the “yellow zone” signals a lower number of COVID-19 cases, meaning the community can begin talking about increasing the number of students in school. The CDC and the NJ Health Department both are advising communities to work toward the goal of getting all kids back to the classroom.

The health department is working with the Montgomery schools to return children to the classroom.

Studies show the classroom is safe with masking, social distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and ventilation, Carey said during the township committee meeting on February 18. Carey is working with the Montgomery Board of Education and the school district to determine indicators that would signal when it is safe to return children to the classroom.

“We know academic success has been suffering under remote learning,” Carey said. “Also, the isolation has been particularly hard on adolescent mental health.”

About 60 percent of Montgomery students are participating in online instruction only. The other 40 percent participate in a hybrid model, that includes some time in the classroom. Carey has also been holding virtual meetings for parents and teachers to address the safety protocols to be put in place, and to discuss their concerns.

“Now, that’s not to say there won’t be any illnesses,” Carey said. “Students can get it from social activities, from sports, and particularly from socializing and car pools surrounding sports. But, it is not occurring in the classroom. We have evidence of this from our own contact tracing team.”

Teachers also are not catching COVID in the classroom, Carey says. So it is safe for them to return too, with the proper safety protocols.

Montgomery Township Committeewoman Catherine Gural asked: “Do we know the vaccination rates of the teachers in Montgomery? Is that a metric you feel is important to have?” Health Officer Carey responded that the “vaccine is one of many tools in the toolbox to get past this pandemic, but it is not a necessary precondition of opening schools.”

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases traced to Montgomery schools and facilities since the start of in-classroom hybrid schooling on Oct 12.

Carey referenced Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci, who recently released a statement that “vaccinating all teachers against COVID-19 before reopening schools is non-workable.” “If you are going to say that every single teacher needs to be vaccinated before you get back to school, I believe quite frankly that’s a non-workable situation,” Fauci told “CBS This Morning” in late February.

Still, School Board President Phyllis M. Bursh and top Montgomery school officials recently sent a letter to Gov Phil Murphy imploring him to “do everything in his power” to prioritize educators in getting the vaccine. “Our board of education, superintendent, administrator’s union, and teacher’s union are unified in this request,” the letter, dated February 8, stated.

The Montgomery school district had applied to be a fixed vaccination facility earlier this year, but the request was denied because of “lack of doses available,” the letter stated. Expanding in-person learning in the classroom Superintendent Mary E. Mc- Loughlin said students participating in hybrid instruction, which includes a mix of in-person and virtual instruction, will be in classrooms four to five days per week, beginning March 1. The school district hosted a presentation for the public on February 22 featuring Health Officer Carey, and school physician, Bert Mandelbaum.

School lunch without masks?

Montgomery Township Deputy Mayor Marvin Schuldiner’s son is among the students who attend Montgomery public schools in the current hybrid model. “The way the day is structured, students have to wear their masks in essence for four hours per day,” he said. “Then, the kids come home for lunch and finish up their day remotely.” Schuldiner asked: “With a return to in-person school, will students still not be allowed to have lunch at school — since they would have to remove their masks for a meal?” Health Officer Carey responded that the return to in-person learning will be a step-by-step process. The initial return would not include lunch — given the importance of the masking safety protocol. “Lunch is a problem that needs to be solved, but it is not unsolvable,” Carey replied. “As the spring weather comes to fruition, we could consider things like outdoor classrooms and outdoor lunch with social distancing.”

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Parents may now attend sporting events at school

Gov Murphy announced last week that parents would be permitted at school sporting events effective immediately. The rules do allow individual school districts to limit those spectators due to COVID-19. In Montgomery, up to two parents per athlete will be able to attend indoor or outdoor youth sports practices and competitions. No other spectators are permitted. Indoor sporting events may never exceed 35 percent capacity. Spectators must follow mask requirements, social distancing guidelines, and stay home if sick. Spectators will be expected to cooperate with contact-tracing efforts.

COVID Cases in Montgomery & Rocky Hill from February 2020 through February 2021

Montgomery Township

Total cases reported: 924

Fatalities Reported: 20

Rocky Hill

Total cases reported: 23

Fatalities Reported: 1

Age Ranges of COVID cases in Montgomery and Rocky Hill

229 <20

146 20-29

85 30-39

144 40-49

142 50-59

96 60-69

35 70-79

70 80+


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