MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW)- While some schools in our area are looking ahead to opening their doors, the coronavirus pandemic has left thousands of students, teachers, and staff quarantined in at least eight states.
Schools in Georgia were among the first to reopen. Three districts there are already dealing with large outbreaks causing some schools to temporarily stop in person learning. Near Atlanta, a high school that went viral for a photo of crowded hallways reopened its doors this week using a hybrid schedule.
News 13 asked Horry County Schools, the largest district in our area if that was a cause for concern.
“I think a lot of the, the school districts that you’re seeing on the news, a lot of them are not practicing all the safety precautions that they could. That’s something we’re proud that we are able to pass in our plan requiring those masks not only in the building, but on school buses as well,” Director of Strategic Communications and Community Engagement Lisa Bourcier said.
Horry County Schools first line of defense are safety measures like masks, social distancing, and at home screenings for COVID symptoms.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said if a student or staff member is showing COVID-19 symptoms during the school day, schools should have an isolation room for those individuals. If a student or staff member’s temperature is 100.4 or higher they will be sent home.
According to DHEC, those in close contact with an infected student should quarantine.
“Close contact is defined as somebody within six feet for more than 15 minutes while the person is contagious,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Medical Officer COVID-19 Command.
The contagious period starts 48 hours before their symptoms begin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire class will have to quarantine if social distancing and masks are maintained.
News 13 asked about distancing concerns with younger children or high schoolers changing classes.
“We recognize that it will be more of a challenge to the younger children. To keep them apart from each other and reminding them of what social distancing is and the importance. We really encourage the programs to cohort as much as possible,” said Dr. Traxler.
Dr. Traxler said, “For students in high school who are changing classes, it is very important to keep distancing and wear your mask because if somebody coughs and sneezes and they’re contagious that could certainly spread, but otherwise generally walking past each other on opposite sides of the hall is not considered close contact.”
DHEC said those considered a close contact should get tested and must quarantine for 14 days after the last contact with the person with COVID-19 regardless of their test results. According to DHEC guidelines, those who have recovered in the last three months and come in close contact would not have to quarantine.
DHEC said teachers who test positive for the virus can not work, but if they are considered a close contact they could stay in the classroom.
“As long as they do not have any symptoms, even mild ones, and continue to wear a mask at all times and get screened daily, they can continue to work as critical infrastructure workers,” said Dr. Traxler.
DHEC said contact tracers will work with school administration, but said schools are responsibile for notifying parents about a positive case of coronavirus.
“Parents should rest assured that if there’s any risk to their child whatsoever, we absolutely will be recommending and helping to notify them,” said Dr. Traxler.
Governor Henry McMaster is calling on DHEC to publicly report any COVID- 19 cases among students and staff in public schools on a daily basis. DHEC said it’s working on methods to report school case data.
News 13 asked at what point would a school have to shut down entirely?
“We would definitely consult with the Department of Education and DHEC to make that type of alert or call. The good news is we are prepared for distance learning,” said Bourcier.
DHEC said there is no defined data threshold for closing schools or classrooms.
For DHEC’s guidance on suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools click here: https://www.scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/Interim-DHEC-Guidance-for-School-Response-to-Cases-Contacts-of-COVID-19-8.7.2020.pdf
For frequently asked questions regarding DHEC’s guidelines click here: http://www.scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/School%20COVID-19%20FAQ_FINAL_8.14.20.pdf