CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester Superintendent of Schools Dave Bromwell took to the field at the North Dorchester High School stadium to sound the alarm on rising COVID-19 rates and school outbreaks in his weekly update to families.
“This pandemic is not over in Dorchester County, and pretending it is does not make it so. All it does is jeopardize the events our seniors, their families, and all of us so much want to happen, especially graduation,” Bromwell warned.
Due to COVID-19 outbreaks, he said Mace’s Lane Middle School is now in its third week of building closure; this week North Dorchester Middle School had to be closed to students, as did two classrooms at Choptank Elementary School.
The schools dashboard on the state coronavirus website shows 12 cases at Maces Lane and five cases each at North Dorchester Middle and Choptank Elementary.
“Dorchester County’s COVID case rate is, at present, the highest in Maryland, just above Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Our case rate is over twice that of our nearest neighbors of Talbot, Caroline and Wicomico,” Bromwell said. “Our positivity rate has been climbing the entire month of April, while Maryland as a whole has remained mostly steady, even declining some.
“These facts present challenges for Dorchester County that other counties do not face and require us to take steps that other counties do not need to take. We are focused on keeping our schools open, allowing all our athletic teams to participate in their games, matches, and meets, and particularly right now, ensuring all of the senior graduation events and year end individual school culmination events take place.”
As of April 27, Dorchester’s seven-day positivity rate was 7.49% compared to 3.89% for the state. According to the Dorchester County Health Department, there have been 2,971 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county since the pandemic bagan. There are currently 46 active cases; one patient is hospitalized. Fifty-three Dorchester residents have died from the virus.
Bromwell said he had heard from parents who want each high school to hold a single graduation ceremony, and he would prefer that as well.
“However, for this to happen we must act responsibly as county citizens and improve our COVID numbers. Our case rate, as it now stands, will not allow us to have that number of people together in one place safely. The Class of 2021 needs to be able to look back upon its graduation as a happy time, not as a super spreader event,” he said.
Bromwell said he wants every student to be able to attend their graduation ceremony and celebrate with their classmates, but anyone who tests positive or comes in close contact with a family member who tests positive in the days leading up to graduation will need to quarantine and will not be able to attend graduation.
“What all this tells us is that everyone needs to be careful, very careful, over the next few weeks. We do not want a spring athlete to miss their graduation because of a team COVID exposure just a few days before graduation. We do not want a group of friends missing their graduation because of a make-shift prom two weekends before graduation,” Bromwell said.
“If we, as a county, continue on our present path, the goal of a single graduation ceremony at both high schools will not take place.”
He advised everyone pull back on large gatherings and events, public and private, and to practice social distancing and wear masks.
“We need to put the brakes on COVID in Dorchester County and reduce our case and positivity rates,” Bromwell said.
The school system will continue to assess the situation, and Bromwell set May 19 as the deadline to determine if COVID figures have improved enough to allow schools to have just one graduation ceremony each.
“Help us keep COVID out of our schools so we can keep them open and help us make the send-off of the Class of 2021 memorable for all the right reasons,” he said.