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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the major changes to MCPS processes for COVID-19 and other common respiratory viruses? In alignment with the latest CDC guidance endorsed by the Maryland Department of Health:

    • People with a COVID-19 infection do not need to stay home for the previously recommended, minimum 5 day period. Instead, the “stay at home” period is based on symptoms.

    • People with any common respiratory virus infection can return to work or school when their symptoms are improving and they are fever free, without using medication for fever.  Both must be true for at least 24 hours. 

    • When returning to normal activities, people recovering from a respiratory virus should take extra steps to prevent spreading the infection for the next 5 days. Extra steps may include being extra attentive to hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes), and wearing a mask or physically distancing when around others indoors. These extra steps are especially important to protect people with risk factors for severe illness from respiratory viruses.


  1. What has not changed in MCPS’ approach to COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses?

    • Core health strategies like keeping up to date on immunizations, good hygiene (hand washing, respiratory etiquette, and cleaning practices), and steps to clean air are critically important disease prevention that should be supported at all times.

    • People with fever and symptoms of a respiratory infection should stay home and away from others when sick. Respiratory infection symptoms include fever, chills, runny nose, sore throat and cough, that aren’t better explained by another cause.  Symptoms of COVID-19, influenza, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) can be very similar and range from mild to severe.

    • People with mild symptoms without fever or returning to school after being home sick can take steps to prevent further spread of infection at school. 

    • People at high risk for complications from a respiratory infection may need extra precautions and should get tested and treated quickly if they develop symptoms, to prevent severe illness.


  1. Why did MCPS change procedures for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses?

    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new recommendations for common respiratory infections, including influenza (flu), RSV, and COVID-19, on March 1, 2024.

    • The CDC combined recommendations for these common viruses, since many strategies for prevention and treatment are the same.  

    • Of note, the new guidance changes some specific practices for COVID-19, including the minimum 5-day isolation period.

    • The Maryland Department of Health and Maryland State Department of Education released updated joint guidance to align with the CDC on March 15, 2024, with these specific recommendations for schools:

      • Schools should transition to the new symptom-based strategy outlined by the CDC for deciding when to return to work and school when sick with a common respiratory infection, instead of using a specific number of days, or based on a specific diagnosis (e.g., of COVID-19);

      • Schools are still required to report outbreaks of COVID-19 to the local health department and may use additional prevention measures when outbreaks occur; and

      • School health suites and clinics, and health care staff, may have different infection control requirements, based on state and local guidance for healthcare settings.


  1. How do the new CDC recommendations protect people with risk factors for severe illness from respiratory infections?

    • The new recommendations emphasize that prevention strategies recommended for everyone are especially important for those at risk for more severe illness and their close contacts.

    • The new recommendations include special information sections for older adults, young children, people with weakened immune systems and certain disabilities, and pregnant people.

    • These sections describe the increased risks for these groups and give more detailed recommendations for prevention, treatments, and considerations when sick with a respiratory virus.


  1. Why did CDC recommendations change?

    • The CDC states that effective vaccines and treatments now available  for COVID-19, flu, and RSV prompted the change. For COVID-19, since most people have some immunity from infection and/or immunization, we now see decreasing trends in hospitalizations, deaths, and serious complications. Though COVID-19 infection is still common, the proportion of people experiencing serious illness is lower.

    • The new recommendations are meant to be easier to understand and to follow, since they provide simpler advice based on symptoms, for multiple common respiratory viruses. 


  1. Does this mean we no longer need to be concerned about COVID-19?

    • No, it does not! Like flu and RSV, COVID-19 can cause serious illness, even though many people will have only mild symptoms.  

    • COVID-19 also differs from flu and RSV in important ways:

      • COVID-19 is more contagious than flu and people may be infectious for a longer period of time after developing symptoms

      • COVID-19 continues to cause more deaths than influenza and RSV

      • Though new cases of long COVID seem to be decreasing, this post-COVID condition has affected a large number of people (>15% of Americans). Long COVID is important to prevent because it can cause serious and prolonged symptoms, and experts are still learning about it.

    • Our community includes staff members, students, and people with household members at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infection.  These individuals may benefit from additional precautions, especially when illness rates in the community are high.


  1. Why is testing for specific viruses still needed, if the recommendations are now the same?

    • For COVID-19 and flu, testing for the cause of a respiratory infection determines what treatment can be used to help prevent severe illness. Treatment can also prevent the virus from spreading to others by making symptoms milder and last for a shorter time.  Treatments for COVID-19 and flu work best when started as soon as possible.

    • Early testing and treatment is especially important for people at higher risk for severe illness and their close contacts.