COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – State educators and lawmakers are balancing children returning to school with controling the fast spread of the coronavirus.
State education superintendent Molly Spearman and a prominent pediatrician were two people who spoke to a Senate subcommittee for children’s services and personal protective equipment (PPE) on Wednesday.
“We’re third in the world today in the spread of COVID cases,” said Spearman.
Data from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) shows if school started Monday, the hybrid model of in-person and virtual classes would only be recommended for seven counties, including Chesterfield, Darlington and Marlboro.
“It’s the greatest dilemma that I’ve ever faced in my 40+ years in education,” Spearman said.
Dr. Debbie Greenhouse is a pediatrician in Columbia, who’s also the former president of the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She says without school, social isolation is leading to depression and suicidal thoughts in younger children.
Dr. Greenhouse also says elementary and middle school kids are much less likely to develop serious illnesses or spread the virus.
“COVID-19 appears to behave differently in children and adolescents, when compared to other common viruses such as influenza,” she said.
“If we can have face-to-face with those that can and those that will end up doing it, it’s better for our children,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Darlington.
Dr. Greenhouse says not everyone needs to return right away.
“I’ve absolutely heard from parents who do not plan to send their children back to school and I think that is absolutely fine,” she said. “There absolutely are employees who probably shouldn’t be going back right now.”
Dr. Greenhouse also says more restrictions are needed to ensure in-person fall classes can happen.
“My top three would be closing the bars, a statewide mask requirement and closing indoor dining for a while,” she said.
“We have to have the full confidence of our parents, our teachers, our staff,” said Spearman.
DHEC’s numbers for reopening schools show Horry County in the worst position in our part of the state. Through Sunday, it had the second-highest positivity testing rate (24.3%) in the state and fifth-highest incidence rate (772.3 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks).
Here’s how other counties in our area ranked (out of 46 counties):
- Chesterfield County – 38th in incidence rate (172.7), 41st in positivity rate (9.4%)
- Darlington County – 40th in incidence (166.2), 44th in positivity (8.9%)
- Dillon County – 13th in incidence (372.6), 24th in positivity (15.7%)
- Florence County – 21st in incidence (314.9), 35th in positivity (12.2%)
- Georgetown County – 3rd in incidence (581.5), 27th in positivity (15.0%)
- Marion County – 11th in incidence (412.4), 37th in positivity (11.1%)
- Marlboro County – 43rd in incidence (151.5), 40th in positivity (9.6%)
- Williamsburg County – 20th in incidence (326.7), 31st in positivity (14.0%)
AccelerateED’s final recommendations say “traditional” scheduling can be done where there are low to no COVID-19 cases in the area or school building. No counties met that threshold this week.
A hybrid schedule of in-person and virtual classes are recommended for areas and school buildings with a medium number of COVID-19 cases. Abbeville, Barnwell, Chesterfield, Darlington, Edgefield, Marlboro and McCormick counties met that threshold this week.
AccelerateED recommends “full distance learning” if there’s a high spread of COVID-19 in the area and a high number of cases in a school building. The remaining 39 counties fell into this category.
Regardless of infection rate, AccelerateED also recommends any in-person classes in the fall should follow social distancing guidelines and students should wear masks.