Sumter School District saw its lowest totals this year in new virus cases and quarantines last week.
After recording 77 new COVID-19 cases among students and staff and directing 749 students to quarantine in week 8 of school, the district had 54 virus cases and quarantined 501 students last week, according to data released Thursday.
The week 9 totals represented a 23-case decrease in the virus and a drop of 248 students (or 33%) directed to quarantine from the prior week. The 54 new COVID-19 cases and 501 student-quarantine total were the lowest weekly tallies by far for those indicators this school year.
Of the 54 virus cases last week, 51 were students and three were staff, according to the data.
The district has been using desk shields when appropriate for several weeks now, and a mask mandate for all students and staff went into effect on Oct. 4 after the district's Board of Trustees passed the measure by a 7-2 vote on Sept. 30. At that time, community spread of the virus had already started an initial decline.
When Sumter passed its mandate, district Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox said she thought it would help to reduce quarantines based on state public health department guidance.
That guidance says a masked student determined to be between 3 feet and 6 feet of a positive, infected student is not considered a "close contact" and does not need to quarantine. However, an unmasked student within 3 feet to 6 feet of an infected student is a "close contact" and is required to quarantine.
A federal court ruling on Sept. 28 helped pave the way for school districts in South Carolina to be allowed to mandate masks. The ruling suspended the state from enforcing a ban on mask mandates.
Also, for the past several weeks, South Carolina has seen a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, there were 823 total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases in the state, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. This is down from 3,242 on Sept. 21. The average daily case count in the last 30 days is 1,941.
Additionally, as of Tuesday, 5.3% of COVID-19 tests in South Carolina were reported positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said 5% or lower means there is a low level of community spread.
While in quarantine, students receive online instruction.
The 501 students quarantined in the seven days from Oct. 9-15, representing week 9, have return dates that may have ranged from Tuesday until early next week if they don't develop any COVID-19 symptoms. A total of 22 students quarantined last week did become a positive virus case, so their quarantine cycles restarted after they were identified.
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