By Uma Ribeiro


Pictured above: QR code to register for free COVID-19 testing at Hammond.

The Bear Press sat down with Hammond principal Dr. John DiPaula to ask some pressing questions regarding the increased rates of COVID-19 across Howard County schools, and the procedures that are following this spike in numbers. 

Per directions from the Howard County Health Department, Hammond staff and students are being encouraged to get tested for the virus tomorrow, Friday, December 17th, in the Professional Learning Room. 

The diagnostic is not a rapid test, but rather a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Those tested would get their results over the weekend. 

“What’ll happen is everyone who is tested [tomorrow] will get the results [on] Saturday. They’ll be notified, and then the school [and] the nurse will be notified. The nurse will get access to the [results] as well as parents unless 18 years old [or older], then [the results] come to you directly,” says Dr. DiPaula. 

He informed The Bear Press of the process for tracing close contacts of those with the virus, stating, “…the health room would reach out to each of the teachers in students’ classes and then they would ask who are the close contacts, which is defined as [those] within three feet [of the Covid-positive individual] for 15 minutes or more over the last 24-hour period. Then the nurse would research to find out if those students were fully vaccinated or not and then start reaching out to parents.”

When a teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the procedures are essentially the same in regards to the number of days they would need to quarantine and be symptom-free before they’re allowed to return, says Dr. DiPaula. 

“If [a staff member] tests positive, they’d be on leave for work until they were able to come back.”

Contact tracing works similarly for students and staff as well.

“We have had staff members that have been Covid-positive over the last year plus, and when that does happen, the [health room officials] ask those teachers who their close contacts [are].”

The metrics regarding just how many students and staff will test positive for the Coronavirus before the school board would have schools shut down remain unclear, says Dr. DiPaula. 

“The school system has not laid out an exact metric for if we hit a certain number, we’ll close down schools…However, I share the numbers several times per day [showing] the overall attendance rate, like how many students are absent from school, [and] I also share the number of students and staff members everyday who test positive…with my community superintendent and the people at the central office.”

The possibility of shutting down if the numbers continue to rise is quite real, he continues: “If they determine that it’s not safe, then they will shut us down.”

Dr. DiPaula encourages students to get tested tomorrow. To register for testing and under 18, ask your parents or guardians to go to this link and select “Dependent Registration.” If 18 and older, go to the same link and select the “Self Registration” option.