Opinion: Why Doesn’t HCPSS Have a Virus Plan?

By Ryan Moshasha

Staff Writer

Pictured Above: In lieu of a virus plan, HCPSS continues to push health checks

Months ago, we learned about the reports of a new type of COVID variant sprouting in parts of South Africa. The virus was named the “Omicron Variant,” with cases already arriving in the USA, including the state of Maryland.

As reported by wbaltv.com, on December 3rd, 2021, Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed 88.5% of virus cases are related to the Omicron variant. These cases created many new questions and left people asking: Will there be another lockdown?

The problem we are facing as a county is a lack of preparation in the wake of this news.

Currently, it seems Howard County has no plan to return to virtual learning, despite the rising number of cases. How many students in Howard County have to get the virus before the school system realizes that we need to have a plan if these outbreaks continue? 

HCPSS should have a plan in place for schools to go virtual for a predetermined period of time in the event of a continued spread of the virus.

The Board of Education should also determine a set number of cases at a school that would enact that virtual plan so as to prevent any more COVID-19 outbreaks at our schools.

Finally, there are steps HCPSS should take to prioritize the safety of our students and staff, including mandating vaccines for teachers. 

When it came to the COVID crisis in March 2020, Howard County and all of Maryland as a whole decided to close schools and switch to a virtual type of learning to try and stop the spread of the virus.

During the lockdown virtual time period, the cases of students with COVID-19 was nowhere near the number of cases reported today in 2022.

Here we are over a year later, COVID is still present, and we’ve witnessed the most deadly virus in our lifetime killing millions of people.

As a county, we should take what we saw this past year and a half and instead create some sort of a plan to protect ourselves and our loved ones from future variants. 

Recently there was a petition created by Howard County students to send a message to Superintendent Martirano, Board Members Vicky Cutroneo, Antonia Watts, Christina Delmont-Small, Yun Lu, Jen Mallo, Jolene Mosley, Chao Wu, and Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Peter Banyas explaining why a virtual type of education for a short amount of time is extremely necessary.

The petition has over 10,000 signatures (including those of many Howard County teachers). Currently, all we have is the mask mandate and testing within only certain schools. 

The battle the counties have to go through to keep children safe from the virus is not easy with the “loud” disagreeing side of the county who believe students and staff should be mask free and virtual/quarantine free.

Should counties be listening to this side?

Hammond High School junior Ariana Ghafouri commented, “As a school system, the kids should come first. Having an earlier lockdown doesn’t only possibly save peoples’ lives, but it [also] avoids the virus to be spread [as quickly].”

It’s true — there is no wrong in closing earlier and having a plan. Counties should always be prepared for an online session of school, especially since we are still in the pandemic and COVID is nowhere near over. 

A voice in this discussion is the vaccines. Some people might think since we have vaccines there would be no point in going into virtual learning, but there is.

The vaccine does not grant total immunity against the virus, which just means that even the vaccinated are still at risk when being exposed to COVID-19.

In fact, since this variant is “more effective [and] more dangerous” than the original strand of the COVID-19 virus, the spread has been much worse for all who have and do not have the vaccine. 

The effects of the virus vary, however, based on one’s vaccination status. This just means people who are vaccinated, although they may get the virus, are less likely to have serious effects from it.

Gov. Larry Hogan gave a speech on COVID updates, saying, “if you don’t wear your mask, if you don’t get the vaccine, you will get the virus guaranteed.”

We should think about kids’ health and safety more than education itself within this county.

There are teachers still not vaccinated. These teachers work with tons of kids in the span of one day. Why do we still have unvaccinated teachers?

We all do understand the “my body, my choice” movement in relation to getting vaccinated, but from a teacher’s perspective, working with so many students for so long, it’s time to think about the children around you.

At some point, as a nation and state, we need to disregard the “loud” side (those who disagree with the vaccine mandate and virtual education) for the safety of children.  

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