GEORGETOWN — Georgetown County public schools get back into session on Aug. 15, just days following the CDC’s latest update to its COVID-19 guidelines showing a loosened approach to infection and exposure to the disease.
The CDC announced Aug. 11 that it would be “streamlining” its COVID-19 guidelines claiming “significantly less risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death compared to earlier in the pandemic.” Executive director of safety and risk management Alan Walters told the Georgetown Times that the language of the latest CDC update only suggests quarantine if infected by COVID-19, rather than requiring it, and no longer recommends quarantine for someone who has been a close contact to a COVID-19 case.
“If you read it, they don’t say anywhere ‘must,’ ‘shall,’ things that dictate action,” Walters said. “All the language that they used was ‘recommend,’ ‘should,’ ‘suggest.’ So there’s nothing that’s really mandated in it now. For instance, with the 5-day isolation period when somebody returns, it says they ‘should’ mask from days 6 through 10. It doesn’t say ‘shall.'”
The CDC’s guidance on quarantine for those infected with COVID-19 “recommend(s)” 5 days of isolation followed by 5 days of wearing a “high-quality” mask. For those exposed to COVID-19, 10 days of mask-wearing with a test on day 5 is recommended instead of quarantine.
Masks will still be a personal choice within the walls of district buildings, though Walters said they will be available to students and staff on demand. The district also has, by Walters’ estimate, about 10,000 COVID-19 tests available for free, assisted by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s July 21 announcement that iHealth antigen rapid tests could be used within six months of their printed expiration date, stretching their shelf life from six months to one year after production.
Walters said the district met from the beginning of the COVID-19 through this past spring with a medical advisory team developed through the district’s “very close” partnership with area healthcare provider Tidelands Health and including area pediatricians and community-based practices. The district has not met with the team regarding operations for the 2022-23 school year, but Walters said they stand ready in case of an interruption of school operations.
“We definitely learned a lot from part of three school years about how to do this,” Walters said. “But I think with the current (guidance) out there, it gives school districts more options on how to address if there’s a resurgence or outbreak again.” That includes the power to shut down a classroom or wing of a school as opposed to an entire building, he added.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s latest guidance regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in schools and childcare centers issued July 15 requires initial reporting of an outbreak, defined as “20% or more of the children/students/staff within a shared setting” such as a classroom or sports team being identified as having COVID-19 or being absent or sent home due to the disease within the space of 72 hours.
“Our number one priority is to keep schools open as long as it is safe to do so,” Walters said.
The Georgetown County School Board will meet for a work session at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16 at the J.B. Beck Administration and Education Center at 2018 Church St. in Georgetown. Walters will provide a school safety overview for the board at the work session.
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