Rapid COVID-19 tests for South Carolina schools in place this week

Rapid COVID-19 tests for South Carolina schools in place this week

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The new rapid result COVID-19 tests promised to South Carolina schools by Gov. Henry McMaster should be at some districts by the start of school this week, education officials said.

McMaster signed an executive order Wednesday giving state health officials permission to begin rolling out the program with tests provided by the federal government.

The goal of the program is to give the rapid COVID-19 tests to students, teachers and staff who are at school and show symptoms to quickly determine if they are infected and isolate them, officials said.

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The initial announcement earlier this month surprised education leaders, who said McMaster had not consulted with them before his news conference. But by the time McMaster issued his Wednesday order, the state Education Department said it would be able to start sending the tests to schools Monday.

Schools will need to train employees — likely nurses or athletic trainers — how to administer the tests, which involve a shallow swabbing inside the nose. The results get back in about 15 minutes. Parents will have to give consent for their children to be tested and districts are not required to give the tests, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said.

Last week, Channel 9 reported some schools may not offer the rests because of concerns over liability and the burden on school nurses. That would make them responsible for testing, relaying results to parents and organizing quarantines.

Some school leaders said offering testing on campus will encourage sick students to come to school and get tested instead of staying home when they are sick. Others say it will help remove sick students from campus faster.

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The federal government has sent South Carolina about 1.5 million of the rapid tests, but most of them are being sent to nursing homes, assisted living and health care facilities. About 220,000 are set aside for schools, DHEC said.

McMaster said the tests should be another tool to reach his goal of having schools open for in-person instruction for students five days a week.

Education officials have said the inability to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state over the past six months and difficulty in some districts to find enough classroom and hallway space to keep students socially distant has prevented them from having students back in school full time.

Before the Thanksgiving break, Greenville County Schools, which have slowly expanded five-day-a-week in-person instruction from kindergarten to older students, said the rapid rise in cases may cause them to have to go back to more virtual schools.

Across South Carolina, about 2,750 students who attend school or school activities in person and 1,150 school employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to DHEC.

The coronavirus is spreading across South Carolina more quickly than any time other than the July peak, which saw the state nearly lead the nation in new cases, according to DHEC figures.

The seven-day average of daily new cases has topped 1,600. The number of people in hospitals is rising too, although officials said they don’t see a problem yet with running out of space to treat people. About a quarter of the people in intensive care in South Carolina hospitals have COVID-19, according to data from earlier this week.

The virus has killed more than 4,000 people in South Carolina, according to DHEC data.

Health officials did not release any new information on Thanksgiving, and starting Friday, will wait 24 hours before reporting new cases. DHEC said that delay will help make sure the data they release is as accurate as possible.

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