DHEC recommends mask use, vaccinations as districts prepare for new school year

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina’s lead health agency issued Thursday its interim guidance on COVID-19 for schools across the state as they prepare for a new school year.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says the recommendations reflect the latest coronavirus trends in the state and are “meant to protect everyone who plays a role in South Carolina’s students receiving a quality education safely,” the agency said.

The full school guidance is available here. Here are some of the key points:

  • 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.
  • DHEC strongly recommends mask use for all people when indoors in school settings, especially when physical distancing is not possible. Children under two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone unable to remove the face covering without assistance should not wear a mask. DHEC recognizes mask use cannot be mandated per the SC General Assembly but is providing the following guidance for teachers, staff and parents.
  •  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.
  • Mask use is required on school buses and other public transportation per federal CDC Order regardless of the mask policy at school or the individual’s vaccination status; school systems should take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with this requirement by students, staff, and others. 

“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. Our students and educators deserve the right to learn and teach in a safe, healthy environment, and vaccinations will make that 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.”

Governor Henry McMaster this week said mandating masks in schools is out of the question.

“State law now prohibits school administrators from requiring students to wear a mask,” said Gov, McMaster. “The General Assembly agreed with me – and that decision is now left up to the parents.”

The South Carolina legislature’s ‘Mask Mandate Prohibition’ proviso, which was signed into law by Gov. McMaster and went into effect July 1, stipulates that “no school district, or any of its schools, may use any fund appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities.”

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last week suggested “all students older than two years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use” during the upcoming school year.

South Carolina’s education leaders say they cannot follow updated federal guidelines recommending indoor mask use at schools nationwide, even for vaccinated students because of the state’s new legislation.

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