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2021-2022 Health & Safety

The health and safety of all students and staff is of the utmost concern. See below for HCPSS efforts regarding health and safety measures for students, staff, families, schools and offices.


Communication regarding and/or sent during the 2021-2022 school year, including Health & Safety updates, can be found online. Read more 

Jump to: Masks | Vaccination / Testing | Health Checks | Isolating & Quarantining | Contact Tracing | COVID Dashboard | Air Quality | Student Meals | Attendance | FAQs

Masks On, HCPSS

Per the Maryland State Department of Education, masks are required in all Maryland public school buildings for all students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. The state mandate reflects guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health, and is in alignment with an HCPSS masking directive that already was in place.

Masks also are required while on school buses. Masks are not required for any students or staff while eating/drinking indoors. Masks are not required outdoors, however they are recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

Students and staff are required to wear masks at all other times while indoors. Some students and staff have received medical exemptions for mask-wearing, which will continue to be granted. School administrators will hold anyone in the building accountable for properly wearing a mask when it is required.

Families are encouraged to send their children to school with KN95 masks, which are recommended by the CDC for their effectiveness over the typical cloth masks previously recommended. KN95 masks have been ordered and will be distributed to schools and offices as quickly as possible. Each student and each staff member will receive two KN95 masks with additional masks available at schools as needed.

RHS students at computers and wearing masks

COVID-19 Vaccination / Testing Requirements

In a continuing effort to maintain safe, healthy learning environments that fully provide instruction and supports for all students, while balancing multiple layers of staffing challenges and workloads, HCPSS has implemented vaccine and weekly testing requirements for staff, student athletes, volunteers and others.

These requirements and protocols will be continually reevaluated as we progress through the school year, in anticipation that vaccines will become available for younger students, health agencies’ guidance may change, and/or declining COVID infection rates may reduce the threat to the safety of students and staff.

MAKO Medical continues to provide weekly testing opportunities at each high school for asymptomatic staff and unvaccinated/asymptomatic student-athletes. There also is additional testing available to registered staff. Each MAKO site carries approximately 500 testing units each day.

HCPSS Students

Generally, HCPSS students are not required to show proof of vaccination or undergo testing. Student vaccine mandates must be directed by the State of Maryland, which currently is not requiring public school students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Students who develop symptoms during the school day are able to receive a rapid test in the school health room. HCPSS is working with the Howard County Health Department to develop a strategy for deploying limited-capacity surveillance testing.

The exception to student vaccination requirements is for student-athletes.

Student Athletes

All student-athletes in grades 9–12 are required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing in order to participate. This requirement begins with the start of winter athletics practices.

HCPSS Employees

All HCPSS employees—including full- and part-time staff, permanent substitutes, long-term substitutes, lunch/recess monitors and translators—are required to provide proof of full vaccination or undergo regular weekly COVID-19 testing.

MAKO Medical continues to provide weekly testing opportunities at each high school for the following asymptomatic groups:

  • HCPSS staff
  • HCPSS contractors
  • HCPSS student interns

Non-HCPSS individuals or anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 are not permitted to use these sites. Additionally, in partnership with the Howard County Government and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, HCPSS staff and their family members now may get tested at the County’s testing clinic.

School staff who develop symptoms during the school day are able to receive a rapid test in the school health room. HCPSS is working with the Howard County Health Department to develop a strategy for deploying limited-capacity surveillance testing.

Contracted Service Providers

Contracted staff who work for before- and after-care and other service providers, such as bus drivers, are required to implement a vaccine or testing requirement for employees.

Volunteers and Classroom Observers

The following groups are required to show proof of full vaccination at least five school days in advance:

  • Volunteers and chaperones who interact with students
  • Parents/guardians who conduct classroom observations
  • Professional individuals or groups who come into the school during the school day to provide enhancements and support to instruction such as musical performers and guest speakers.

Details on volunteer/observer vaccine requirements are available online.

Additional Testing

We anticipate receiving rapid at-home test kits through state and federal distributions, however, the timeline and quantity of distribution is unknown at this time and staff is actively working to confirm the timeline of when these kits will be delivered to local education agencies.

In the meantime, HCPSS is ordering 66,000 at-home test kits to supplement the 5,000 kits we currently have on hand. Staff is working with the Howard County Health Department for guidance related to the best way to implement an at-home testing strategy that is sustainable and effective and complements the rapid and PCR testing occurring in schools.

Upcoming HCPSS-Sponsored COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics 

Howard County Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine Website 

HCPSS Staff & Student-Athlete COVID-19 Testing Program Informatiion 

At-Home Health Checks

Parents/guardians should keep their children home if they are experiencing symptom(s) associated with any communicable disease, including COVID-19. In addition, parents/guardians are to perform the following COVID-19 health check every day before the student leaves home.

Students and staff should NOT come to school with any of these symptoms:

  • fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • diarrhea or vomiting
  • new onset of severe headache (especially with fever), or
  • new loss of taste or smell

For persons with chronic conditions such as asthma, the symptoms should represent a change from baseline.

Isolating & Quarantining

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a recommendation to shorten quarantine duration to five days. This recommendation was adopted by the Howard County Health Department (HCHD) and detailed in the Dec. 31, 2021, message to the community and staff.

In alignment with guidelines provided by HCHD for positive cases, all students and staff who test positive for COVID or are showing symptoms must be isolated for 5 days regardless of vaccination status and may not return to school until:

  • They have been out at least 5 days from the onset of symptoms or upon receiving a positive test without symptoms, and
  • Remain fever-free for 24 hours, and
  • Show a consistent improvement of symptoms.

Also in alignment with HCHD guidelines, you should quarantine if:

  • You are ages 12 or older and completed the primary series of recommended vaccine, but have not received a recommended booster when eligible.
  • You are not vaccinated or have not completed a primary vaccine series.

If you came into close contact with someone with COVID-19, you do not need to quarantine if you have received all recommended vaccine doses, including boosters when eligible.

It is recommended that all individuals get tested 5 days after exposure, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms. However, a test is not required to return after the 5 days as long as the individual is not displaying any symptoms. The Howard County Health Department treats positive cases in the prekindergarten program as it would a daycare setting, closing the affected classrooms for a minimum of 5 days. Additional details on how positive cases of COVID-19 in a prekindergarten classroom are handled can be found online.

Contact Tracing

HCPSS recently made adjustments to its contact tracing process to ensure we are meeting legal requirements to provide accurate and timely data to the health department while supporting our students and staff who test positive. HCPSS will continue the current processes for students who test positive by sending names and addresses to the Howard County Health Department, making personal contacts with families of students with COVID, and gathering information about cohorts where there are multiple cases of positive students.

When HCPSS recognized that the surge in cases severely disrupted existing contact tracing procedures, we focused our energy on completing actions that would be helpful for families and staff. Specifically, we prioritized:

  • Tracking positive cases and investigating infected individuals to determine their onset of symptoms, classes, and cohorts;
  • Contacting household contacts of any student who is positive to ensure they are following the proper guidance for household exposure;
  • Notifying families of students who are unable to mask or are experiencing high-risk health conditions;
  • Investigating linkages between cases when there are multiple cases in schools; and
  • Communicating positive cases and cohort outbreaks to the Howard county health department.

HCPSS staff look for school cohort outbreaks. The Maryland Department of Health defines a cohort outbreak as “three or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among students/teachers/staff in a specified group with onsets (or, if asymptomatic, collection dates) within a 14-day period, and who are epidemiologically linked in the school setting, but not household contacts.”

Additional details on contact tracing may be found online.

HCPSS COVID-19 Dashboard

The HCPSS COVID-19 dashboard reflects daily (non-cumulative) positive test results self-reported to HCPSS of students, staff or visitors in school/office buildings during their contagious period. This data reflects the date HCPSS was notified of the positive case and not necessarily the date of the positive test result. Due to the current high-volume of daily positive cases, it is likely that cases may not be reflected on the dashboard right away as our focus remains on ensuring we support students and staff who have tested positive, conduct contact tracing, and notify families and individual school communities first.

The HCPSS dashboard also includes cases that are part of the MDH outbreak reporting. These cases may not impact HCPSS school communities because they often include people who are already in quarantine as an identified close contact and not participating in-person activities while contagious.

The dashboard additionally includes weekly numbers of students and staff in quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test or as a close contact. Close contact or quarantine does not indicate those students or staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Air Quality

HCPSS implemented a combination of measures to improve building ventilation at each school, including portable HEPA fan/filtration units to provide auxiliary air cleaning in each school’s COVID isolation room, and in portable classrooms where outdoor air is not introduced through the HVAC unit. The HVAC units serving all student-occupied areas of HCPSS school buildings and all other portable classrooms provide outdoor air ventilation. In addition, HCPSS has additional portable HEPA fan/filtration units on order to deploy as necessary, however, all spaces that currently require one due to inability to meet ventilation guidelines are fully equipped with portable HEPA fan/filtration units.

The following improvements to building ventilation already have been implemented at all schools:

  1. Air filters having a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of MERV 13 have been installed in all HVAC units wherever possible.
  2. Outdoor air ventilation has been maximized at all schools by ensuring that outdoor air dampers, airside economizers, and exhaust fans are working properly in all HVAC units. Air bypass around 16 air filters has also been addressed in all HVAC units to ensure that all air passes through the air filters and not around them.
  3. HVAC system run times have been extended, starting two hours before school occupancy through two hours after school occupancy, to flush schools with additional outdoor air ventilation prior to students’ arrival and after their departure.
  4. HVAC units provide approximately six room air changes per hour durin student-occupied hours.
  5. Demand-controlled ventilation has been disabled to ensure that 100% of the outdoor airflow designed for each space will be continuously delivered whenever schools are occupied.
  6. HVAC system energy recovery units have been disabled during times of non-extreme summer and winter conditions to prevent any exhaust air from being re-entrained into the outdoor air ventilation.
  7. Portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration units have been installed in the isolation room in each school’s health suite, as described above.
  8. Carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors with data logging capabilities have been installed in all school cafeterias. The level of CO2 in the room air, measured in parts per million (ppm) CO2, provides an indication of the effectiveness of the outdoor air ventilation in diluting airborne contaminants.

Student Meals

Students will not have to wear masks when eating or drinking, however, masks are required when not seated or eating in the cafeteria.

The Maryland Department of Health confirmed to HCPSS that eating is exempted from the strict masking policy for early return from isolation or quarantine, because students and staff must unmask to do so. In cafeterias, students must be masked when not eating and drinking and HCPSS will continue to implement strict COVID mitigation efforts that exceed the recommendations of the CDC and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

All schools have outdoor eating spaces available for student use, as weather and staffing permits, to lessen the number of students in the cafeteria. In an effort to maintain a healthy environment in cafeterias, the following actions have been implemented:

  • Additional tables were ordered and distributed to schools to help ensure outside eating areas are furnished, as well as to allow maximum spacing indoors.
  • Based on the availability of products from vendors, large tents that are compliant with local code were provided to elementary schools to increase outdoor dining spaces.
  • Plexiglass shields for indoor cafeteria tables were being secured for grades K-6 where students are largely unable to be vaccinated. These panels provide additional protection between students who are unable to be vaccinated while eating when masks cannot be worn.

FES students eating lunch outside under tent


Some parents have requested an excused absence for reasons not related to required isolation or quarantine for COVID for their student based on the current State of Emergency. HCPSS staff received clarity from the Maryland State Department of Education that, “The Governor’s State of Emergency covers various health care matters including, health care providers, hospitalizations, etc. There is no reference to schools in the Executive Order. The Governor is committed to keeping students in schools. Therefore, the State emergency code is not applicable and is not a reason to request virtual instruction.”

At this time, absences from school will be considered unexcused unless the student is ill or meets other qualifications for an excused absence.

Frequently Asked Questions