Data on COVID in Charleston County shows school is safe

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From Medical University of South Carolina –

“It’s so compelling that the schools are safe if you put all the mitigation strategies in place, and the risk to the students is so much higher if they’re not in school.”

Despite widespread concern that a return to in-person public school would drive a surge in COVID-19 cases in Charleston County, South Carolina, the data tells a very different story.

Allison Eckard, an infectious disease pediatrician at MUSC Children’s Health who is working with the school district on pandemic prevention measures, was shocked. “I really was just not in favor of this initially. And now I am a believer. Kids need to be in school, and it’s safe.”

Her research found that only about 1% of the students and staff in Charleston County Public Schools tested positive for COVID-19 between the start of in-person school on Sept. 8 and winter break, which began Dec. 18. That added up to about 500 total cases out of about 38,000 students and staff. The data does not include charter schools, which were not part of this assessment because they can have different rules than traditional public schools.

Thanks to contact tracing by a team of school nurses trained by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Eckard was also able to get a good idea of how the coronavirus spread when it did crop up.

“There have only been a handful of cases that may have been transmitted within the schools and within the classroom. There have been cases, there’s no doubt, but the majority of them have been acquired outside of the classroom. The ones that did happen inside the classroom most often involved a teacher giving it to a teacher or a teacher giving it to a student. And I have no examples of students giving it to teachers — the thing that everybody was so worried about,” Eckard said.

She said other issues affecting kids have cropped up during the pandemic as well. At-home learning keeps teachers from being able to spot signs of abuse and neglect, so mistreatment may go unchecked for longer than in the past. And that’s not all. “Gun violence and the number of children with suicidal thoughts have also increased because of a lack of supervision and the social isolation that occurs when kids aren’t in school,” Eckard said.

Charleston County’s success in returning to in-person school has raised interest in at least two other Lowcountry school districts that are currently all-virtual or using hybrid models. “It’s so compelling that the schools are safe if you put all the mitigation strategies in place, and the risk to the students is so much higher if they’re not in school,” Eckard said.