CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - New research data by the Medical University of South Carolina shows there’s been no surge in COVID-19 cases in public schools in Charleston County following the return of in-person classes.
According to Dr. Allison Eckard with MUSC Children’s Health, only 1% of students and staff at Charleston County schools tested positive for the virus between the start of in-person school on Sept. 8 and winter break which started on Dec. 18.
MUSC officials said that added up to about 500 total cases out of about 38,000 students and staff. Health officials said the data does not include charter schools, which were not part of the assessment because they can have different rules than traditional public schools.
Eckard, who is an infectious disease pediatrician at MUSC Children’s Health, said she was shocked by the new data.
“I really was just not in favor of this initially. And now I am a believer. Kids need to be in school, and it’s safe,” said Eckard who is working with the Charleston County School District on pandemic prevention measures.
According to Eckard, there have only been a handful of cases that may have been transmitted within the schools and within the classroom. She said the majority of the cases were acquired outside of the classroom.
Eckard said that the cases that happened inside the classroom most often involved a teacher giving it to a teacher or a teacher giving it to a student. She said she had no examples of students giving it to teachers.
“I would put a little asterisk by that and say that yes, there is a possibility that there’s an asymptomatic student who has given it to a teacher and we don’t really know, because I don’t know the source of infection in every case,” Eckard said.”But there’s no evidence of that. In most cases, the infection could be traced to a family member or a friend where they had spent time together outside of school. In some cases, sports activities, carpooling, and social gatherings were identified as the sources of infection.”
Eckard also said her research found that in Charleston County schools kids whose families chose online learning over in-person tended to come from what she called disadvantaged groups.
“Those are children who are already at risk for educational and health disparities,” she said. “And so that makes it even more important to get them back into school.”