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McDuffie County schools mandate masks; surge hits hospitals hard

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 7:46 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 3:35 PM EDT
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THOMSON, Ga. - In response to public health data and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health, the McDuffie County School System has updated its return-to-school plan to require masks.

Starting Thursday, masks will be required for students, staff, and visitors to all district facilities and buses, regardless of vaccination status.

“The district’s primary concern is the health and safety of students and staff. This decision takes into account current conditions, the rise of COVID-19 cases in McDuffie County, the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for vaccination, and a federal executive order requiring masks on school buses,” the district said in a statement on Wednesday, the third day of the school year.

The ultimate goal of McDuffie County Schools is to remain open for in-person instruction.

According to the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health guidance, students or staff identified as close contacts to a positive case for COVID-19 will not have to quarantine if both are properly wearing masks in the school setting.

“McDuffie County Schools appreciates the support of our community as we navigate this changing situation,” the district said.

Columbia County district now strongly urging masks

EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Columbia County School System upgraded its mask recommendation for students as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to rise rapidly in Georgia.

The school district’s back-to-school plan was revised Tuesday with “verbiage strongly encouraging the use of face coverings by all students and staff, particularly those who are not fully vaccinated,” the district said in a statement. The wording wasn’t as strong before Tuesday.

Here's a look at the mask situation in two of our big local school districts.
Here's a look at the mask situation in two of our big local school districts.(WRDW)

“The safety of students and staff remains a top priority in the Columbia County School District,” the district said. “For this reason, district leaders have been and will continue to monitor the positive COVID cases in our community and our school district on a daily basis.”

The full back-to-school plan can be viewed at www.ccboe.net.

While the Columbia County district doesn’t mandate mask use, the neighboring Richmond County School System does.

Mask mandates now cover more than a third of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.

University Hospital copes with COVID surge

AUGUSTA, Ga. - University Hospital was hit by an “afternoon surge” Tuesday that brought up its COVID-19 inpatient county to 64 on Wednesday morning.

That’s up from 39 on Tuesday morning and 49 the day before — and far up from about a month ago when the hospital had as few as three COVID inpatients before the super-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus settled into the region.

The major local hospitals all reported double-digit COVID inpatient counts Wednesday, with 53 at Augusta University Medical Center, 27 at Doctors Hospital, 31 at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center and 23 at Aiken Regional Medical Center.

University Hospital urges people to attend a vaccination clinic Aug. 12 in its cafeteria dining room at 1350 Walton Way. Walk-ins will be welcome, but you can sign up at https://university_hospital_covid_clinic_aug-11.eventbrite.com. You must be 18 or older, and your state of residency does not matter.

Local public health district chief Dr. Stephen Goggins told the Augusta Commission on Tuesday that vaccination is among the best ways to fight the delta surge. He said at the peak, there were about 2,500 vaccinations per day in Richmond County, but now we’re seeing only about 200.

How Grovetown is responding to surge

GROVETOWN, Ga. - Because of the rapid rise of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the region, the city of Grovetown is strongly encouraging all people who enter its public buildings to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and maintain 6 feet of distance from others, even if vaccinated.

In addition, city employees will be taking extra COVID-19 precautions. All employees will be wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, limiting the number of workers in vehicles and practicing social distancing when necessary.

“Due to the surge of the new COVID delta variant, let’s all be cautious, social distance, wear your masks, avoid large crowds and wash your hands often. Together, we can keep our workforce and our citizens as safe as possible. We will get through this,” said Mayor Gary E. Jones, himself a survivor of COVID-19.

Where the two-state region stands

AUGUSTA, Ga. - COVID-19 cases continue to rise in both Georgia and South Carolina as the super-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps the region.

Georgia’s seven-day average has risen above 4,000 cases, almost 11 times higher than when cases bottomed out in late June.

Hospitalizations are also continuing their rapid increase, climbing above 2,600 statewide.

Statewide, 26 hospitals reported Tuesday they were turning away all patients or new intensive care patients.

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reported a total of 2,065 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the state reported 2,035 new cases, as well as 13 new deaths confirmed to have been caused by COVID.

Mayor not imposing mask mandate for now

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Dr. Stephen Goggans with the Georgia Department of Public Health gave the Augusta Commission an update on COVID cases in Richmond County.

According to him, cases are trending up with no sign of slowing down. But at this time Mayor Hardie Davis says there no need for a mask mandate.

Concern about the ongoing COVID spike “has not risen to the level of where it’s necessary to put a mask mandate in place,” Davis said.

“I think he generally said follow the CDC guidelines and they recommended people wear a mask, those that are fully vaccinated and without question, those who are not vaccinated,” Davis said.

More kids are getting COVID in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, S.C. - A South Carolina health expert says more kids are getting COVID-19 in the Palmetto State.

“We are starting to see another surge of cases, and children are among those who are getting infected,” said Medical University of South Carolina Dr. Allison Eckard. “You have to remember that many of our children, particularly the younger children, have not yet been vaccinated. So there are still many children who are vulnerable. So yes, we are seeing another spike of cases among young children.”

Numbers pulled from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control show 8.7 percent of COVID cases the last three months were in kids under 10. That’s compared to 2.4 percent last spring.

It appears the median and average age of cases has also steadily decreased.

Eckard said, thankfully, it’s now clear that children have less severe COVID than adults in general.

Also in the news ...

  • Up Interstate 20 from the CSRA, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin announced a state of emergency for the city. The emergency declaration requires facial coverings for all faculty, staff, children over the age of 3 and visitors in all buildings at public and private schools or day-care facilities. The purpose of this state of emergency is to educate and care for children from ages of 2 to 14 and slow the spread of COVID-19.

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