McMaster wants public reporting of virus cases in schools

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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks at a news conference introducing state Rep. Bobby Cox as his pick to lead the state’s veterans’ affairs agency, on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, at a news conference in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is calling on the state health department to report any COVID-19 cases among students and staff in public schools.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control should develop a process to collect and disclose cases in every school district in the state, McMaster wrote Monday in a letter to DHEC Chairman Mark Elam. That data, stripped of identifying information to comply with confidentiality laws, should be reported on a daily basis, he added.

“The disclosure of this information is in the public’s interest, and it will ensure that parents, teachers and the public have accurate and authoritative information,” McMaster wrote.

A spokesperson for the health agency said it intended to fulfill the governor’s request.

At least eighteen districts will start classes next week, according to re-opening plans approved by the state education department.

Currently, schools are only required to notify students and families who were in close contact — within six feet (2 meters) for at least several minutes — with someone who tested positive, state Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown told The Greenville News.

In several states including Georgia and Tennessee, school districts have begun to report positive cases as students returned to classrooms.

States have taken varying approaches in how or if they publicly report cases in schools. In Mississippi, where more than 120 students in a single district were quarantined after eight students and one teacher tested positive, Gov. Tate Reeves has indicated it is the responsibility of individual districts on whether to disclose cases. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee reversed course and declared the state would release data days after saying the information would not be collected.

Teachers and parents have voiced concern over the potential spread of the virus in school settings, and some teachers have objected to the re-opening of schools for face-to-face instruction this fall. Department of Education Superintendent Molly Spearman has required districts to offer an in-person classroom education option for students.

State demographic data shows 4% of reported COVID-19 cases are in children aged 10 or younger, and 11% in people between the ages of 11 and 20.

State health officials have reported more than 99,000 cases since the beginning of the outbreak. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

South Carolina continues to rank in the top 10 states for total number of daily new cases and deaths in the last 14 days.

Also Monday, the state health department implored residents to respond to the calls and emails of contact tracers, and warned against any potential scams. The health department said contact tracers will never ask for a Social Security number, financial information or immigration status.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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