Health Update from the
MCPS School System Medical Officer

January 2, 2024

Dear MCPS Community,

With many of you returning from travel and gatherings during an active cold and flu season, here are some health updates and tips as we start the new year. Although we are in a better place as compared to last year’s season, with more tools to prevent severe illness, being aware of current health trends helps keep students and staff ready for teaching and learning.

  1. Rates of COVID-19 and influenza (flu) continue to rise, contributing to increased hospital admissions for severe respiratory illness.

    The latest COVID-19 subvariant of interest, JN.1, has been in the news because it has become more common than other Omicron subvariants. So far, there is no indication that it causes more severe disease, and COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines work for JN.1. However, as flu and other respiratory viruses are also spreading in the community, it is still important to be careful. Emergency room visits and hospital admission rates for COVID-19 and flu have been increasing in our state since November, especially for older adults (65 years+), infants and young children.

  2. The Maryland Department of Health issued new masking guidance for health care settings related to increasing hospital admissions from respiratory infections.

    Face-covering guidance from the county health department has not changed for the general population or other public spaces. The new state guidance applies to health-care settings and is based on the state’s combined hospital admission rates for multiple respiratory infections. You may be asked to wear a mask at a doctor’s office or hospital, and masks are strongly recommended for health room staff in schools. Medical masks will continue to be available for staff and students at school. Please refer to our website for more information. 

Healthy habits and staying up to date on immunizations are critical during cold and flu season, especially for those at higher risk for severe disease, or for those who are in close contact with anyone at higher risk or too young to be vaccinated. Testing promptly with symptom onset can also help reduce severe disease, since medicines are more effective when started early. If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have mild symptoms, consider testing before spending time with anyone at higher risk. Schools will continue to make COVID-19 rapid test kits available for staff and students. 

MCPS continues to work closely with our county health department and other amazing community partners on a broad range of health trends. COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, but other important health issues merit our joint attention. Health is about more than not getting sick, and we are best able to learn, teach and support each other when we feel well. The health of our school community is a shared responsibility; thank you for your collaboration and commitment to the health of our staff and students.


Patricia Kapunan, M.D., M.P.H.
MCPS Medical Officer

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Montgomery County Public Schools