Sumter School District's COVID-19 cases down but still high; quarantine totals drop further, but many were already home last week with remote learning

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After recording back-to-back, new, high positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff in the first two weeks of January, Sumter School District saw a significant decrease in virus cases last week.

In the third week of January, the local district still reported 360 positive COVID-19 cases but that was about a 27% drop from 491 cases in week 2 of the month, according to data released Wednesday by the district.

The case total is still the third-highest weekly tally since the start of the school year in August.

Quarantine totals for staff and students were down by an even larger rate for the week of Jan. 15-21, but those reductions can be explained by nine schools in the district shifting to remote learning last week. Obviously, when a school facility is closed, additional people are not directed to quarantine, according to Shelly Galloway, the district's executive director of communication and community engagement. Positive cases are still reported to the school, regardless of whether a school is in person or remote, she added.

Of the schools with in-person learning last week, officials directed 89 teachers/staff to quarantine. That was down from 217 in the second week of January. Similarly, the number of new students quarantined last week was down by 1,118 - or 38% - to 1,836.

The student quarantine total still represents about 12.5% of district enrollment but is down from roughly 20% in the prior week.

After a surge in school closures in early January because of the omicron variant, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control revised its school COVID-19 guidance again on Jan. 16.

The new guidance shortens the length of time staff members must quarantine after being exposed to the virus and relaxes testing requirements for students in quarantine.

The intention and hope is that the new guidance will combat staffing shortages as school districts across the state try to stay open for in-person learning, according to state Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown, who spoke Wednesday to The Sumter Item.

He added a majority of districts are reviewing the new DHEC guidelines at this time. Galloway said the local district is also reviewing the new guidance.