Jan 31, 2022 - COVID

Testing drive kept D.C. schools in-person after winter break

Illustration of a face mask with an A plus school mark
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

D.C. Public Schools are faring better after embarking on a mammoth experiment to test each student and staff member before returning from winter break.

Driving the news: No DCPS campus is currently in virtual-only learning mode.

  • That's in contrast to before the holiday break, when 24 schools were not offering in-person learning due to COVID cases and staff shortages, according to DCPS spokesperson Enrique Gutiérrez. 
  • After the return from winter break on Jan. 6, two schools went virtual-only until Jan. 18, and Cardozo Education Campus closed for a day. “Since then zero” closures, Gutiérrez wrote in an email. 

The big picture: Mayor Muriel Bowser stuck to an in-person return to schools last fall, arguing that virtual learning hinders students academically. 

  • But a spike in cases after Thanksgiving threatened to derail classroom instruction again. 
  • “The fear of the union was if it's like this after Thanksgiving, what is it going to be like after Christmas?” said Washington Teachers' Union president Jacqueline Pogue Lyons.

When Omicron cases exploded in December, the Bowser administration tested staff and students before returning to school from the winter break on Jan. 6. 

  • That effort reined in cases. The first two weeks back, about 400 students weekly tested positive — out of DCPS' total student body of over 51,000 students. 
  • Last week, cases declined to 309.
  • The union is pushing for more weekly testing of students, Lyons tells Axios. They also want KN95 masks to be distributed to students, now that they are available for teachers.

Zoom out: Cases are down in schools region-wide, tracking the decline of the Omicron variant.

  • Daily student positive cases in Montgomery County have plummeted from an average of over 1,300 two weeks ago to 136 as of last Friday, according to data reviewed by Axios.

What's next: DCPS will test all students and staff again after a one-week mid-winter break next month. 

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