S.C. Department of Education, DHEC unveil new COVID testing program

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 9:29 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s top educator and public health director are both encouraging more school districts to take advantage of an opportunity that can get more quarantined students back in the classroom sooner.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Department of Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s public health director, Dr. Brannon Traxler, visited Fountain Inn High School, where the Greenville County School District has partnered with DHEC to set up an on-campus COVID testing site for the district’s students and staff.

“We certainly encourage all of the schools and districts to do as many have done and utilized these programs that we’re providing for free,” Traxler said.

Since the start of the 2021-2022 school year, more than 193,000 students across the state have had to quarantine because they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, forcing them to miss up to two weeks of in-person instruction, even if they themselves never test positive.

Greenville County Schools Superintendent Dr. W. Burke Royster said the district’s on-campus testing sites have helped more than 1,000 students get out of quarantine early since the sites opened about a month ago.

School districts are able to choose if students who come in close contact with a COVID-positive person have to quarantine for 10 days or 14 days. But students who take a COVID test and receive a negative result in a certain period of time are able to return after seven days.

“This is another tool to help us reduce that amount of lost time while still focus on the health and safety of our students, our employees, and our community,” Royster said.

The testing location at Fountain Inn High School offers drive-thru PCR tests, which Traxler said are considered “the gold standard” because of their accuracy and reliability. Tests at these sites are also administered and processed by a third-party vendor, MAKO Medical, which is doing the same in districts in six counties in the Upstate region. According to DHEC, 28 districts, one Governor’s School, and two charter schools have vendor-run, PCR testing available on campus.

The department said about 60 schools and districts are performing rapid tests, which are typically administered by school nurses.

Both the PCR and rapid testing programs are available to schools and districts at no cost, as the money to run and supply them comes from DHEC.

“The funding for these and for us to be able to purchase many of the rapid tests that we provide is through the federal government,” Traxler said.

In addition, one district and three schools are providing testing through Operation E.T., which is funded and run through the federal government.

“We’re very, very encouraged in how this is helping us in our goal to get students, and staff, but students in a safe environment, back in school five days a week,” Spearman said.

Spearman said the vendor-operated testing sites are particularly beneficial for schools, as they can ease the burden of administering tests on school nurses, who, in many cases, are already overwhelmed this year from contact tracing and other responsibilities.

“We meet again this Thursday with all district superintendents, and I’ll be talking with them about this,” Spearman said.

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