DHEC releases mask, vaccination guidance in schools; requires masks on school buses

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 5:39 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 1:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control released its COVID-19 interim guidance for the upcoming school year in K-12 schools.

The guidance includes recommendations based on the latest COVID-19 trends.

In recent weeks, cases across the state have started to increase as the Delta variant of the virus spreads and vaccinations remain low.

“Our first priority is the safety of our children and teachers,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC Director. “That is why, above all else, we’re urging all eligible South Carolinians to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so. The last thing we want is for COVID-19 to spread through our schools causing avoidable illness.”

DHEC’s guidance strongly recommends mask use for all people when in school, especially when physical distancing isn’t possible.

“The use of masks and other precautions recommended in our guidance will also help ensure a safe, healthy environment in our schools especially with the emergence of the Delta variant,” Simmer said.

It also requires masks to be worn on school buses, regardless of the mask policy at the school or vaccination status.

READ MORE | DHEC’s COVID-19 Interim Guidance for K-12 School Operations

State law prohibits districts from requiring students to wear a mask. Proviso 1.108, which prevents school districts from requiring face masks in schools, was passed by the General Assembly as part of the 2021-2022 General Appropriations bill.

Here are other key points in the DHEC’s interim guidance:

  • Schools are strongly encouraged to work with local public health officials and healthcare facilities and professionals to provide factual information and education about COVID-19 vaccination and to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines by coordinating vaccine clinics for staff, students, and families who wish to be vaccinated.
  • At least three feet of distance between each student should be maintained to the greatest extent possible.
  • Case investigation and contact tracing are critical strategies to identify and isolate cases and test and quarantine close contacts to reduce transmission.

The South Carolina Department of Education issued this statement after DHEC released the interim guidance:

“DHEC has been a tremendous partner for our agency and continues to provide sound public health advice for our students, families, and educators as we navigate the ever evolving COVID-19 pandemic. All members of our state’s education system should familiarize themselves with this latest guidance and schools and districts should implement the appropriate prevention strategies.

As noted in the guidance, vaccines remain the most effective tool we have to combat the virus and can ensure our school communities have the safest, most normal, uninterrupted school year possible. I encourage families of vaccine eligibile students to speak with their pediatrician and strongly consider the personal protections and public health benefits of vaccination.”

DHEC reported nearly 19,000 COVID-19 cases among students and faculty through June 18, 2021.

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