PICKENS COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released guidance and recommendations Monday in hopes of keeping campuses safe from COVID-19.

“I think our primary goal is to make sure that kids can stay in school safely so that they can be learning and growing socially, intellectually,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, a DHEC’s medical consultant. “To do that, safely we are encouraging families to still get their kids vaccinated for COVID-19, but we’re also recognizing that being in that environment is important.”

“So, if kids are a close contact to someone who has COVID 19, they don’t necessarily have to go into quarantine and stay and stay home. They can stay in the school as long as there is not an outbreak in the school,” Dr. Knoche said.

DHEC released the following updates below:

  • Schools and childcare centers are encouraged to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) during non-outbreak periods.
  • Parents are urged to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.
  • DHEC will no longer require close contacts to quarantine during times when there are no active outbreaks, but those who are sick with COVID-19 or test positive must continue to isolate, meaning they must stay at home.
  • Schools can take advantage of several options to test for COVID-19.
  • Schools and childcare centers are urged to follow updated DHEC guidelines during outbreaks.

“While DHEC will no longer require people who have come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to quarantine during non-outbreak periods, the agency is recommending that schools and childcare centers follow CDC guidance for quarantine, masking, vaccination, testing, etc.  The CDC recommends quarantine for close contacts. Those who have COVID-19 or test positive still must stay at home, regardless of the severity of their symptoms,” a press release stated.

The release went on to stay that, according to the 2022-2023 School and Childcare Exclusion List, those who isolate can only return to school if:

  • It has been at least five days since symptoms started and 24 hours since the last fever (without using fever-reducing meds.), 
  • Symptoms are significantly improving, and
  • A mask must be worn days six to 10 unless the person tests negative on two rapid antigen tests performed on days six and eight, then they may remove the mask after the negative test on day eight. 
    • If either test on day six or eight is positive, the mask must be worn through day 10 and no further testing is recommended. 
    • If a mask is not worn as instructed above, a 10-day isolation must be observed.”

Officials with the School District of Pickens County said things are off to a great start this year.

“We’ve had a great start and we had a good strong end to last school year, and we’re very optimistic coming in to this year that it’s time for some normalcy,” said Darian Byrd, Director of Communications for the School District of Pickens County.

“So far, we’re in good shape,” Byrd said. “We’re monitoring very carefully and just encouraging all of our students and our staff, if you’re sick, get tested, monitor those symptoms. Stay home.”

Schools in Pickens County have been in session since August 2nd.

“Well, with the new guidelines unless you have an outbreak, which they call it a group, if you have a group which could be like a classroom or it could be a grade level, it could be a team–something like that, just the way it’s written. If 20% or more reports positive, that’s when you start counting and doing quarantines. We haven’t had no one get to that level,” Byrd said.

“While schools and childcare settings are encouraged to refer to CDC guidance during times when there are no outbreaks, DHEC Outbreak Guidance has been developed as a resource for school leaders during outbreaks. School districts should consult with their legal advisors to make the best decisions for their schools or districts if they have an outbreak,” DHEC’s press release stated.

DHEC also released the below information about an outbreak:

  • It is considered an outbreak when 20 percent or more children plus staff in a shared setting – such as a classroom, childcare room, sports team with more than five people – are diagnosed with or absent/sent home due to COVID-19 within 72 hours of each other. 
  • Outbreaks are required to be reported to DHEC.

Greenwood School District 50 has been in school since late July. Officials said they haven’t had any major problems.

“COVID for us has been ok. Knock on wood. I mean obviously it could change tomorrow, but we’ve been trying to treat COVID more like the flu this year based on the DHEC regulations that we received,” said Johnathan Graves, Director of Communications, Greenwood School District 50. “So, we’ve been staying pretty much true to that and knock on wood, haven’t have any outbreaks to this point,” he said.

“We’re currently looking at six total that are positive in our district and that’s really all that we’ve been tracking. Our nurses have been asked to track that information by DHEC, and we track it over a 72 hour period, which is what an outbreak is considered—that 20%. They tell you that if 20% of a cohort is considered positive , you know over a 72 hour period then you have to go into contact tracing and quarantine guidelines at that point. So, those are the guidelines that we’ve been following up until now, and so far, everything has been real positive,” Graves said.

Dr. Knoche said they’ve seen COVID-19 numbers growing across the state.

“We’ve seen COVID numbers going up in general, in the population I don’t think we’ve been able to pen point anything this soon in the school context, but it’s certainly something we’re going to need to keep an eye out for,” Dr. Knoche said.

He hopes all parents play their part in limiting the spread.

“I think parents need to try to ensure that their kids are vaccinated as quickly as they can. Because it will help protect kids from getting COVID, and from spreading it. But also school districts need to also bear in mind that there have been some changes to at home testing recommendations. So, the FDA is now recommending that if somebody does an at home COVID test, they repeat that test a couple of days later to make sure that that test is still negative and it’s not potentially missing a positive case because of the different mutations that have occurred,” Dr. Knoche said.

“I think the biggest concern is there are so many children who still remain unvaccinated, in the face of a very safe and a effective vaccine. And with numbers increasing, and so I continue to encourage my friends and family who have young children, to get them vaccinated,” he said.

For more information, visit DHEC’s updated school and childcare webpage page. Visit the DHEC website or the CDC website for more about COVID-19.