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‘I don’t feel safe at school’: New COVID-19 cases continue to surge in counties, schools

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Horry County Schools Superintendent Rick Maxey announced the district will not use rapid testing in schools — an option given by the South Carolina Department of Education. Nick Masuda/staff

MYRTLE BEACH — As both Horry and Georgetown school districts see a measurable uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced an additional 140 cases in Horry County and 13 in Georgetown County on Wednesday afternoon.

For Horry County, it was the eighth consecutive day with 100 cases or more reported, the first time that has happened since July 10-17. The county’s 7-day average for new cases is 137.1.

Meanwhile, Georgetown County’s daily average in December is 12.3 new cases per day, a more than 30 percent increase over November.

Wednesday’s numbers represent data from the prior day, as DHEC started to provide the updates with a day delay just after Thanksgiving.

Horry County Schools is experiencing a surge in cases, with the district's dashboard showing 113 active cases among students (73) and staff (40) as of 4:15 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. That number was at 101 on Wednesday morning, and 68 as of Dec. 3.

In addition, HCS schools are having a hard time finding substitutes, according to a source close to the situation. The district has 203 staffers in quarantine, a number that was at 129 on Monday afternoon.

HCS’ district office has 22 staffers in quarantine, followed by St. James High with 12, St. James Elementary with 12, Green Sea Floyds Middle and High School with 11 and River Oaks Elementary with 10.

Of the 57 schools on the HCS COVID-19 dashboard, 47 have at least one staffer in quarantine.

“I don’t feel safe at school. Students don’t always wear their masks appropriately. Some students have voiced their concerns about getting COVID as well,” one teacher at a school with more than 10 quarantined staffers said.

The teacher asked that they remain anonymous due to the fear of retribution by the district office.

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“Schools should be full-time virtual through the surge,” the teacher said, adding that there have been 55-60 students absent per day at their school over the past week.

HCS does not report students in quarantine, and announced that it would not be participating in offering rapid tests for students on Monday night despite Gov. Henry McMaster's executive order allowing districts to do so. McMaster was critical of those districts that have made this decision on Wednesday.

"We need to get the children back in school or we're going to be paying the price for that for decades," McMaster said.

Horry County's current incidence rate of 463.7 is more than double the threshold for a county to be deemed "high" level of spread, and this was originally the metric intended to guide the HCS instructional model as part of its back-to-school plan.

In October, the HCS Board of Education moved away from that, as recommended by Superintendent Rick Maxey.

Horry County was averaging 55.2 new cases per day in October, while the county is at 127.8 thus far in December.

As of late Monday, an HCS spokesperson said the district had not discussed moving back to full-time virtual instruction.

Georgetown County Schools did announce that one of its schools would be moving to “remote” instruction as of Thursday, with Georgetown Middle School students and teachers now heading home due to “the number of quarantined staff members who require substitutes increasing from Monday through the end of the day Tuesday,” according to a statement from the district.

GCSD said that all Georgetown Middle School after-school activities, including athletic practices, were canceled through Jan. 3.

The district currently has 19 active COVID-19 cases, while 134 are in quarantine, led by 19 at Georgetown Middle School.

According to a spokesperson, GCSD intends to announce on Dec. 18 on how students will return to school after Winter Break, with school set to begin on Jan. 4.

Reach Nick Masuda at 843-607-0912. Follow him on Twitter at @nickmasudaphoto. 

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