Nearly 2,500 South Carolina faculty and more than 21,000 K-12 students have been placed in isolation due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis since the start of the school year, according to data released Wednesday from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Another 2,605 faculty and 86,823 students have been placed in quarantine as of last Friday due to a close exposure to someone who tested positive for the virus, according to DHEC.
That means about 10% of school staff across the state and about 14% of all students have missed in-person class time so far this semester due to COVID-19.
The data release comes amid a growing concern that, without strict mask rules in place, more children will be forced to quarantine at home and learn online.
“We appreciate the ongoing support and dedication of our school officials, teachers and school employees around the state during these challenging, stressful and emotional times,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s public health director. “We know that school officials consider many factors when they make decisions about classroom instruction, and we hope that including quarantine and isolation numbers in our statewide school reporting will provide an additional data set for informing school officials, as well as students, parents and caregivers, about the current status of COVID-19’s effect on our schools.”
Those numbers, collected by DHEC and the state Department of Education, likely fall short of a complete picture of how the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools. In total, 360 of 1,031 public and private schools across the state reported no data on quarantines or isolations to DHEC.
For example, Greenville and Horry County school districts — two of the largest in the state — reported little or no data. About half the schools in Richland County did not report school quarantine and isolation data either.
DHEC, which has urged all districts to participate, has issued a number of recommendations for instances of high numbers of quarantined students.
If three or more students or faculty in a class, team or group test positive for COVID-19 within two weeks of each other, schools should consider quarantining all students and staff in the group who are not vaccinated for 14 days after the last contact with the last identified COVID-19 case.
The state health department also said schools or grade levels should temporarily go virtual if 30% or more students are absent due to COVID-19 quarantine or isolation or if 5-10% of the student body is in isolation at the same time after contracting COVID-19. Schools and grade levels should continue virtual classes for seven to 14 days before reconsidering returning to in-person class, according to DHEC guidance.
Of the schools that reported data to DHEC, the Felton Laboratory Charter School in Orangeburg reported the most COVID-19 cases in the state, with 56 faculty and 574 students testing positive since the start of the semester. It’s followed by Robert Smalls International Academy in Beaufort County with 20 faculty and 335 students testing positive.
Sumter High School reported the highest number of students and faculty who had been isolated so far this semester, with six faculty members and 1,022 students out of school due to coronavirus exposures.
Of the schools that did report data to DHEC in Richland County, Crayton Middle School reported the most isolations due to a positive COVID-19 tests with 85. The school also reported quarantining 79 other students and faculty due to COVID-19 exposures, according to DHEC data.
DHEC’s new reporting tool was released as schools across the state struggle to stay open due to a massive influx of COVID-19. Though the state saw a decline in cases from April through June, reported case numbers shot up in August. Health officials warned that COVID-19 numbers reported last month rivaled South Carolina’s worst spike in January.
As a result, districts across the state have transitioned to periods of virtual learning. And schools across the state also have reported deaths among teachers due to COVID-19 complications, including four in Dorchester District 2 and one in Lancaster.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, South Carolina has reported more than 650,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and roughly 10,000 confirmed deaths. The state also has reported more than 150,000 probable cases and about 1,500 deaths that were likely due to COVID-19.
DHEC has said the best way to fight COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated.
Health officials announced Thursday that 50% of eligible residents across the state were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The agency’s goal is to have 70-80% vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 vaccines are available to all age 12 and up, and those interested in receiving the vaccine can find a place to get it on DHEC’s website: vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov/