Coronavirus cases in South Carolina Midlands schools are beginning to decrease following a surge early in the school year.
The decline in cases has been especially pronounced since late August. For example:
Lexington 1 in central Lexington County, which had 516 positive cases and 4,222 students excluded from school on August 31, is down to 148 active positive cases and 1,698 students excluded from school as of Sept. 24, according to the district’s dashboard.
As of late August, Richland 2 had 268 students test positive, The State reported previously. As of Friday, only 78 students in the northeast Richland County district are COVID-19 positive, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
On Aug. 19, more than one in 10 students at Kershaw County Schools were quarantined, and the district had 215 positive tests in the first two weeks of school. As of Aug. 24, fewer than 5% of students are quarantined and the district has 128 positive students, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
At Lexington-Richland 5, 1,457 students were either isolated, quarantined or had tested positive on Sept. 2. As of Sept. 23, 907 students in the Irmo-Chapin area district were impacted, according to the district’s dashboard.
While the decline in K-12 COVID-19 cases follows a decrease in the number of statewide new cases since early September, school officials attribute the decline to quarantining, mask mandates, temporarily shifting to online schools with high case numbers, increased vaccination rates and testing.
“Our quarantining practices, coupled with temporarily shifting nine schools to e-learning, reset the clocks, so to speak. That allowed our schools to slow the spread of the virus,” Lexington 1 Superintendent Greg Little said in a statement. “It also appears that since we are not requiring masks, our in-school spread is reflective of and driven by the community spread much more than it was last school year. So as the community spread declines, we are seeing in-school spread decline, too.”
Little was cautiously optimistic, saying while the trend is moving in the right direction, cases are still higher than they were at any point last year.
One district where cases never spiked to the extent of its neighbors was Richland 1, the only school district in the S.C. Midlands that has required masks for everyone since the first day of school. Richland 1’s COVID-19 case numbers have been climbing slowly since the beginning of the school year, but the district of more than 22,000 students has not yet seen more than 150 active cases. Currently, 1,009 students are quarantined, according to the district’s dashboard.
Richland 1 has not yet canceled any in-person classes this school year because of COVID-19, district spokeswoman Angela Crosland said in an email.
After rising case numbers forced Lexington 2 to temporarily close several schools, the Cayce-West Columbia district also began requiring masks. Since mandatory masking was implemented, Lexington 2 has had a decrease in cases. On Sept. 3, the day before the mask mandate was approved, the district had 199 positive students and 1,476 students in quarantine, according to spokeswoman Dawn Kujawa. As of Sept. 21, the number of positive students was down to 65 and only 244 students were in quarantine, Kujawa said in an email.
Kujawa credits not only district policy, but also employees taking it into their own hands to wipe down surfaces, encourage social distancing, etc.
“Our janitorial and food service teams, bus drivers, teachers, staff members and administrators have gone above and beyond in an effort to maintain the safest learning environments possible in our schools,” Kujawa said.
Kershaw County Schools at one point had the highest percentage of students, more than 10%, who were quarantined. That number decreased to the point where S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster visited Camden Elementary School and said the district was a “model” for limiting the spread of COVID-19.
District spokeswoman Mary Anne Byrd attributed the decrease to “multiple factors” such as “community support” and “increased vaccination rates.”
While the number of students testing positive or having to learn remotely has decreased in recent weeks, the pandemic has taken its toll on local schoolchildren. Just this semester, one in seven K-12 students — more than 100,000 students total — have missed in-person classes because of the pandemic, The State reported previously.
The University of South Carolina, which also has required masks since the first day of school, has also seen a similar decline in cases, according to its COVID-19 dashboard. On Sept. 8, USC had 437 active cases, but by Sept. 18, the most recent date available, the university had only 190 active cases, according to USC’s online dashboard.
While USC’s policies, such as mandatory masking, testing, offering vaccines and more, have helped keep numbers down, cooperation from students and employees is crucial to minimizing the spread of COVID-19, USC’s interim chief health officer Jason Stacy said in an email.
“Throughout the process, there has been excellent student, faculty, and staff compliance with the campus guidelines,” Stacy said. “Through teamwork and compliance, we have been successful.”