COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said he has ordered all schools, colleges and universities statewide to close through at least March 31.
“This includes pre K through 12, all universities, colleges, and technical colleges,” he said. “School closings are inconvenient, we know that. They’re inconvenient for everybody, for working parents, for families as well as employers.”
McMaster made the announcement at a news conference Sunday from the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia.
He sent a message to parents, asking them to take time to explain to their children how serious COVID-19 is.
“It is time for parents to impress upon their children how important things like social distancing is, keeping your distance from someone coughing, sneezing, that sort of thing; personal hygiene, washing your hands all day long,” he said. “Impress upon the children, how important that is and also that will help us remember ourselves, and we must also explain the importance of limiting exposure to those considered at risk like the elderly or the infirm.”
South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said the state’s principals, superintendents and teachers are working together to prepare to continue instruction for students and to be sure that those who need to be fed will be fed.
“The South Carolina Department of Education, Office of Health and Nutrition has been granted a waiver from the United States Department of Agriculture, that allows our summer feeding options to be used during this school closure,” she said. “We have also received a waiver for flexibility, said that meals can be the grab and go type will either have you come by and pick up the meals or we’ll be delivering those to you on our school buses. These waivers will allow communities to provide nutritious meals to students who may not have access to them outside of the school day. Applications to begin that service are already being screened by our office and will be received promptly in the morning.”
Spearman said they are in talks to equip some 3,000 school buses that we have the hardware to deliver WiFi.
“We’re asking our service providers to work with us, so that these buses could be used in remote areas so that folks could come to those buses throughout the day if they do not have WiFi access," Spearman said. “We’re also encouraging districts to utilize our state fleet of about 6,000 buses to drop off instructional materials to students along bus routes, if they’re unable to come to school and for the pickup.”
Spearman said schools would be cleaned during the closure and said teachers would be paid.
“I want to assure parents that their children will have an opportunity to be fed and to get instruction and we will be delivering that if necessary using our school buses,” Spearman said.
McMaster also urged that public gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, be limited to 100 people or fewer. That does not include state, or local government meetings or businesses or employers, he said.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell announced nine new presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the state. The new cases include three in Kershaw County, three in Horry County, two in Anderson County and one in Greenville County.
“One of the cases from Kershaw County was an employee of a childcare facility,” Bell said. “The person was not ill while they were at work. We have notified the facility. However, we do not consider the staff and children of the child care facility at risk from exposure in that center.”
Here is a breakdown of where those cases have been reported:
- Kershaw County: 14
- Horry County: 3
- Beaufort County: 3
- Lancaster County: 2
- Charleston County: 1
- Anderson County: 2
- Greenville County: 1
- Lexington County: 1
- Spartanburg County: 1
“We do accept expect to see more cases and that’s why we’re testing more and as expected, we are identifying more cases,” Bell said at Sunday’s news briefing. “We understand how the disease is spread from person to person. So that’s why we encourage people to stay home when they’re ill to prevent that. We don’t expect to stop the spread but we know that we can slow the spread. And that will allow our healthcare system to more slowly absorb the cases, and to provide care for those who need it most.”
McMaster also emphasized there is no shortage of testing capabilities in the labs in South Carolina.
“The DHEC lab and the private labs currently have more than adequate supplies, more than adequate to conduct all the tests we need, and the DHEC lab will be resupplied with more tests this week,” McMaster said. “In addition, the Federal Drug Administration has today approved Medical University of South Carolina for COVID-19 testing. MUSC has said that they will likely start processing these tests in the lab, by the end of this week.”
If you feel ill and are trying to decide whether to stay home or whether you may need to worry about COVID-19 exposure, Bell says the main symptom someone should look for is a fever.
“The rest of the symptoms are nonspecific and can represent an allergy or something like that so we say it’s not cough or shortness of breath or fever, it is cough and shortness of breath, and fever,” she said. “It’s that compilation of symptoms that people should be aware of.”
Bell said that for anyone with milder symptoms for which they would not normally seek care, health officials are not encouraging them to get a test to find out if they have the COVID-19 infection. Most people experiencing milder symptoms will recover at home without medical evaluation.
Speaking to the comparative lack of concern with the regular flu, Bell pointed out there is a vaccine for the flu.
“And so the number of people in the population who are susceptible to flu is dramatically reduced by the vaccine and that’s why we strongly encourage that every single year,” Bell said. “And if there’s not a vaccine available, you are more likely to see a much larger number of cases because there is no other protection except for the social distancing measures. And so this is a very good example of why we strongly encourage the flu vaccine and other vaccines every single year to prevent disease outbreaks like this."
But Bell insisted the public should not panic about COVID-19.
“It’s not something to panic about,” she said. “Be rational about what to expect, so that when we see more cases, that doesn’t mean that this is something that is completely out of control. We’ve seen it in other states. And so to do what we know works is most important because panic doesn’t help. And in very simple measures are effective. And so that’s what we’re advising people to do.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.