SC schools raise concerns about on-campus COVID-19 testing

SC schools raise concerns about on-campus COVID-19 testing

ROCK HILL, S.C. — It’s an understatement to say that no one in education expected South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to announce that he wanted to test children for COVID-19 in schools.

“We were blindsided by that,” said Ryan Brown, spokesman for the state’s Department of Education.

Schools are scrambling to figure out how they will test for COVID-19 on campus by next week. Some said they may work through the Thanksgiving weekend to get those plans in place.

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The state will send rapid tests to schools and require school nurses to be trained to give the tests.

Sen. Mike Fanning (D-Chester, Fairfield, York), who is a former teacher, said it would be too much responsibility for schools as officials try to get students back to campus.

“This is a cluster of the highest proportion when we are asking people in seven days to take on the biggest pandemic in the world and put that burden on our schools!” Fanning said.

Some districts aren’t even sure they will do the testing because of the liability and concerns over what happens when there’s a positive case.

Lancaster County Superintendent Jonathan Phipps echoed Fanning’s thoughts about the job of a school nurse.

“When they signed up to become a school nurse, I don’t think they signed up to be a testing coordinator for a disease that’s spreading during a pandemic,” Phipps said.

Channel 9 heard a different response from the clinical lead nurse at Rock Hill Schools.

Sadie Kirell said nurses already are involved in contact tracing and sending students and staff to quarantine when there’s a positive case.

She felt like having the tests at school would be good.

“We will be able to do it in real time on that day when we’re excluding them because of their symptoms, which will then get us results back quicker,” Kirell said.

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Phipps also has another concern that, by offering testing on campus, it will encourage students to come to school and get tested instead of staying home when they’re sick.

He believes it sends mixed messages to parents.

“If you’re sick, we want you to stay home because we don’t want it to spread,” Phipps said. “So now we’re going to send a message that if you’re sick, come on to school. We’ll test ya,” he said.

The program is voluntary, but the governor hopes school districts will take part.

It will require parental permission for a student to receive a COVID-19 test in school.

Most local districts haven’t received guidance on the program from the state.

However, they believe only symptomatic students will be tested, and a doctor will have to order the test.

Guidance from the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Department of Education will be rolled out this week to school districts.

“School nurses are frantic because nobody wants students safer than they do,” Fanning said. “But they want to be adequately trained in this.”