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As schools settle into a new year that is anything but normal, the public may soon have a better grasp on how much the coronavirus is being marked present in classrooms.
Starting Friday, the state's public health agency will begin releasing twice-weekly reports on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with staff and students at public and private schools.
According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the reporting will include for every school both cumulative and rolling 30-day counts of confirmed cases among students, teachers and faculty members and will be updated on Tuesday and Friday afternoons.
DHEC determined the key points of its imminent data sets are fourfold.
First, the reporting doesn't mean that students, faculty or staff contracted the virus at school.
"Unlike a nursing home, where residents live at the facility, students, teachers and faculty come and go from school and are active in their community and could come into contact with the virus outside of a school setting," the state agency's news release on the matter reads.
Second, the reporting will include K-12 students in private and public schools, not college students.
Students living in South Carolina to go to school are included in DHEC's daily numbers, which are reported by county based on patients' current address.
The third key point is that school-level case reporting will include only those who "physically attend school on a regular basis," such as sports coaches, tutors, part-time employees, food service staff who work in cafeterias, custodial and maintenance staff and other school employees with "a physical presence."
Students who participate in virtual instruction but are on campus regularly for extracurricular activities will also be included.
Lastly, DHEC pointed out that some schools may choose to self-announce cases before that are reflected in the state agency's twice-weekly reports.
"There may be a delay in what cases are included in DHEC's online reporting," the release said, "as the agency works to receive the information, review it and confirm it before presenting it online."
The new data reporting comes after DHEC released a county-level data dashboard on Aug. 11 that offers trends and numbers on testing, hospitalizations, cases and deaths for every county.
Gov. Henry McMaster during the summer asked school districts to offer in-person instruction five days a week, but most are starting with a hybrid model that includes two days in a classroom and the rest virtual.
Sumter School District started its school year on Friday in an all-virtual capacity. District administration is planning to reevaluate every two weeks whether it is ready to begin offering a hybrid instruction model with two days a week of in-person instruction based on virus activity.
Clarendon School Districts 1 and 2 both started on Aug. 17, Summerton-based Clarendon 1 offering a full five days a week of face-to-face instruction as well as a hybrid model and fully virtual model for all students. Clarendon 2 in Manning plans to begin offering one day a week of in-person instruction on Sept. 14 after starting fully virtual.
Clarendon County School District 3 in Manning starts on Sept. 8 with five days of in-person instruction a week offered to grades K-2 and a hybrid model with two days a week in person for grades 3-12. All students can also choose to remain fully virtual.
Lee County School District also plans to start Sept. 8 but will begin fully virtual and will reevaluate every two weeks when it can open a hybrid model option to students.
While the state's seven-day rolling average had been steadily decreasing since a peak at the end of July, new cases leveled off but now have started to rise again, recently reaching past 900 for the first time since the decline.
On Tuesday, DHEC announced 761 new confirmed cases of the virus and 37 additional deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases statewide to 118,116 and the death toll to 2,626.
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