By Tony Kukulich
Last week, nearly one out of 10 students in the Beaufort County School District (BCSD) was quarantined due to a potential COVID-19 exposure, but data released by districts shows that the latest surge of infections may be beginning to wane.
“I want to share with you this evening first of all that we are seeing a large decrease in COVID-19 positive cases this past week,” Beaufort County School District (BCSD) Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said during a board of education meeting Tuesday, Feb. 1. “We’re starting to see the decline and we’re hoping and expecting that that is going to continue going forward.”
According to the most recent data, the number of quarantined students in the BCSD is down nearly 17 percent week over week, dropping from 2,160 to 1,798. However, there was no such decline for the quarantined district staff members, which remained pegged at 58. The district reported that approximately 12 percent of quarantined students and staff ultimately result in a positive COVID-19 case.
There was a precipitous drop in confirmed COVID-19 cases among both staff and students. The number of confirmed infections among district staff fell 54 percent from 115 to 53, and the number of confirmed cases among students sank 35.4 percent from 500 to 323.
Staffing issues in the schools remain despite the recent improvements in positive case numbers. The BCSD has been forced to seek alternative methods to ensure coverage in its classrooms.
“There’s a national teacher shortage right now as a result of the pandemic,” BCSD Director of Communications Candace Bruder said. “As a means of covering classes impacted by staffing issues, the district contracts with Proximity Learning, who provides certified teachers to deliver virtual instruction. We also utilize substitutes and internal teachers during their planning periods.”
State officials have focused efforts on reducing the number of students in quarantine. In a press release issued this week, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) encouraged schools across the state to utilize the Test to Stay (TTS) program as a means to keep more students in the classroom after a possible COVID-19 exposure.
Instead of immediately quarantining students after a possible COVID-19 exposure, the TTS program allows students to stay in the classroom if they test negative between five and seven days after exposure and are not experiencing symptoms. The program also recommends a second test 24 hours after the first test. To assist in this effort, DHEC is providing tests to schools that implement TTS and has ordered more than 1,600,000 rapid at-home tests.
“We are aware that several school districts have concerns about updates to our COVID-19 school guidance and our School and Childcare Exclusion List,” DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said. “We know that their goal is to keep more students in schools. DHEC shares in that goal and is ensuring that schools and parents have access to rapid tests so school systems can fully implement TTS, which allows most students to remain in school. This is the most effective way to maximize learning without sacrificing our students and teachers’ well-being.”
COVID-19 cases across the county are also falling. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been four distinct surges in confirmed COVID-19 infections. Driven by both the Delta and Omicron variants, the most recent surge started in mid-December and peaked about 30 days later with case numbers that far outdistanced any that occurred in the prior three surges.
While the numbers were far higher this winter, the duration of the fourth surge looks as though it will be shorter, assuming the trends continue along their current trajectories.
The seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 infections was 239.6 on Jan. 30, the latest date for which there is data. That’s a 50 percent drop from a peak of 484.9 just 15 days earlier. Though the daily number of new cases has dropped dramatically in the past few weeks, the number is still higher than the peak case numbers seen in any of the prior surges. The current surge is fading, but the number of new cases remains comparatively very high.
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Delaware he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He and his wife enjoy exploring their new home state. He can also frequently be found playing bass guitar with a couple of local bands.