Watch CBS News

Ahead Of Return To Classroom, Scott Announces 100K Tests, 80K Masks Will Be Given To City Schools

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- With students set to return to the classroom, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott on Wednesday said the city will give 100,000 tests and 80,000 masks to Baltimore City Public Schools.

Scott endorsed the school system's plan for in-person schooling, saying virtual classes have led to learning loss that has impacted the emotional well-being of students and deepened inequities in education.

"I hear directly from students all the time who tell me, 'Mayor, I cannot return to virtual learning, it will not work for me.'" he said. "And we all know that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom, where they have the proper environment to grow and develop their mind and social skills so that they can grow to become the best versions of themselves."

Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises earlier this week said all teachers and staff must get regularly tested throughout January regardless of their vaccination status. Previously, only unvaccinated staff had to get regular testing.

The school system is prepared to administer 50,000 tests each week, she said.

The teachers union has called for all students tested before reopening on Thursday, a measure supported by some members of the City Council, who have publicly called for a delayed reopening.

City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton and members Zeke Cohen, Odette Ramos, Ryan Dorsey and Kristerfer Burnett, along with a coalition of teachers, activists and various community groups, held a virtual briefing Wednesday to announce the Baltimore Teachers Union has launched a high filtration mask drive.

The drive kicked off with a donation of 13,000 N95 masks from the nonprofit Baltimore CONNECT and the Johns Hopkins program Medicine for the Greater Good, organizers said.

"We know that N95 and other high filtration masks work better at preventing the spread than regular cloth masks," Cohen said. "That's why this [personal protective equipment] drive is so critically important. We need high quality equipment, and we need people to get vaccinated."

Baltimore Teachers Union executive board vice president Corey Gaber noted that with nearly 78,000 students nearly 8,500 teachers and staff in Baltimore City Public Schools, more supplies will be needed.

Charlotte Juengel, a senior at Baltimore City College and a member of Students Organizing for a Multicultural Open Society, said schools need to increase student participation in testing and work with young people to determine the barriers to getting vaccinated.

"If we truly are committed to maximizing in-person programming, we must embrace this mask drive and embrace additional mitigation measures in order to keep people in school safely," Juengel said.

Middleton called for City Schools to pause reopening, noting that schools in Prince George's County are going virtual until Jan. 14 due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

"We're not saying stop completely," she said. "You need time to get this testing situation in order."

The city has also secured 200,000 at-home testing kits that will be distributed to residents in the coming weeks, Scott said.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the city's current seven-day case rate is 252 cases per 100,000 people, a "high rate of transmission."

As of Jan. 3, Baltimore's positivity rate was 33% and hospitals in the city were at 86% capacity in intensive care units and 88% capacity in acute care beds, she said. The Maryland Department of Health data breach has limited the agency's ability to update data on its website, but Dzirasa said up-to-date metrics are still posted on the state health department's website.

Both Scott and Dzirasa renewed their calls for Baltimoreans to get fully vaccinated and receive their booster shot if they are eligible.

"I want to be clear that although vaccinated individuals can get infected with COVID-19, the majority of those being being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated," Dzirasa said.

The mayor said he received his booster shot on Tuesday morning.

"The vaccine and booster doses continue to be the best defense against serious illness and hospitalization due to COVID," Scott said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.