Hours after Greenville County Schools Superintendent Burke Royster reported an improvement in the rate of coronavirus infections and test results in the community, the district announced sports practices could resume next week.
Royster told school board members Tuesday morning that while Greenville-area COVID-19 infection cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks remain high — 333.5 — this is a decrease compared to the rolling, two-week rate of incidents the county saw in mid-July, when it reached 500. Similarly, the two-week average for positive tests is now 15.4% compared to nearly 19% in mid July.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control issues "community spread" metrics every Monday. These metrics are a cornerstone of the school district's response plan for reopening schools and holding extracurricular activies. In June, Greenville County was ranked "High" in in its two-week case count, percentage of positive COVID-19 tests and its growth trend in COVID cases. Practices were canceled on June 25 as community spread of COVID-19 infections pushed above 200 new cases a day and positive tests were at or about 20%.
But with cases now in decline, DHEC's latest report placed the county "Low" in the trend metric, though it remains "High" in terms of actual cases and positive test results.
The downward trend is a testament to the use of masks and social distancing in the community, said school board member Crystal Ball O'Connor.
"I am grateful for the change in direction, and I believe it is because our community has responded and said, 'If you want our children back in school, we need to do our part," O'Connor said. "And I have noticed a lot more mask wearing."
Summer conditioning and practices must accord with South Carolina High School League rules, Royster said, as well as input from local and state public health experts.
Royster told trustees that sports would continue into the fall so long as schools are open at least one day a week.
"If we are in-person in school any number of days, athletics will resume," he said.
School board member Joy Grayson asked Royster during the Tuesday morning meeting what, under the current community spread conditions, the school district would do if the first day of school were tomorrow.
"I would say based on that stability, if you all approve this framework, we would most likely begin in person with a '1'," he said.
Under the back-to-school framework that board members later approved, a "1" means schools are open one day a week; a "2" means they are open two days a week; and a "5" is five days a week. A "0" means schools are closed and all instruction takes place at home. There are no "3" or "4" scenarios.
"And did I understand you correctly that if we were able to open under attendance plan 1, athletes would be able to practice as they normally do?" Grayson asked.
"Yes," Royster said.
District spokesman Tim Waller released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying teams hold an orientation on Thursday or Friday to get parents and students up to speed on precautions in place to help limit spread of the virus.