COVID cases climbing during school reopening planning

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By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

     Health officials in the Carolinas continued to report disturbing COVID-19 death and infection totals on Monday, with Columbus and Horry counties each impacted.

     North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cowan, and public education leaders rolling out plans to reopen schools later this summer each expressed concerns that those troubling numbers could scuttle or scale back those efforts.

     This post will cover these topics and may be updated:

  • Columbus COVID death toll hits 28, 19 more infected
  • Coronavirus claims 30th Horry resident, 61 new cases
  • Guidance to reopen N.C. schools shared

Columbus COVID death toll hits 28, 19 more infected

     A 28th COVID-19 related death and 19 newly confirmed infections were revealed in the first twice-weekly coronavirus report from the Columbus County Health Department Monday.

     Daily reports from the health department were suspended Thursday, with reports now expected each Monday and Thursday, unless events warrant releasing information in the interim, Monday’s news release said.

     No details on the latest death, including when it took place, were releases.

     “We offer our deepest condolences and sympathies to all of the individuals’ family and friends in this very difficult time,” the news release said.

     With 19 additional Columbus County residents testing positive for COVID-19, the county’s case total has reached 373 since the pandemic began, with ten cases June 5, two on June 6, five June 7, and two June 8, the news release said.

     No information on the source of those infections, or if the source has not been determined, was provided.

     DHHS data: State Department of Health and Human Services data on Monday indicated Columbus County’s 28th COVID death for the first time.

     Zip Code data on the DHHS online dashboard showed a third COVID death in the Fair Bluff area for the first time. It also showed newly confirmed coronavirus cases, since Sunday, in the Tabor City and Whiteville areas, Tabor City’s up by one to 91, Whiteville up by five to 100.

     Online tools designed to help North Carolinians decide if they need to be tested, and if so where, were launched by DHHS last week, and can be found here and here.

     Statewide: North Carolina has recorded 36,484 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, DHHS data showed Monday, that number up by 938 and among several metrics DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cowan and Gov. Roy Cooper said were concerning.

     Hospital capacity has not been overwhelmed during the pandemic, but 739 people were in North Carolina hospitals Monday receiving treatment for coronavirus complications, that number up by 43 from Sunday.

     CC Health Updates: Regularly updated information from the Columbus County Health Department is available on its Facebook page here.

Columbus County Health Department’s COVID-19 Call Center is also operating from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Call 910-640-6615 ext. 7045 or 7046.

Coronavirus claims 30th Horry resident, 61 new cases

     A 30th Horry County resident has been claimed by COVID-19, and the county has 61 more residents who have tested positive for the disease, the biggest single-day jump since the pandemic began, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Monday.

     Five of the newly confirmed cases are from the Loris Zip Code, DHEC data showed, that total now 131. Green Sea’s case count held at nine in Monday’s data.

     Overall Horry County has recorded 676 COVID cases.

     Statewide there have been 14,800 positive tests returned for COVID-19 in South Carolina, up by 542 from Sunday; with 557 related deaths, up by 11 from Sunday.

     A total of 507 Horry County residents were hospitalized for treatment of COVID complications on Monday, that number up by 30 from Sunday.

Guidance to reopen N.C. schools shared

     New health guidelines released Monday represent a first step to help North Carolina K-12 public schools find a safe way to open to in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year, health and education leaders announced Monday.

     The StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit (K-12) lays out a comprehensive set of baseline health practices that public schools should follow to minimize risk of exposure to COVID-19 for students, staff, and families. In addition to specific requirements, the Toolkit recommends practices that schools should implement to minimize spread of COVID-19 while allowing in-person teaching to resume, a news release from the Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said.

     Gov. Cooper, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis, and NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Mandy Cohen shared the guidance Monday. Each expressed concern that current trends, including more positive testing, rising percentage of positive results from those tested, and higher hospitalizations, could threaten efforts to get schools open when planned.

     For a downloadable copy of the toolkit click here.

     “Getting children back to school to learn is a high priority, but they must be able to do so in the safest way possible,” Gov. Cooper said. “Every child, family and public school educator in North Carolina deserves strong protection to lower the risk of virus spread.”

     Gov. Cooper stressed that the goal is to open the schools “in a safe way.”

     Schools are asked to plan for reopening under three scenarios – Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing, Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing, or Plan C: Remote Learning Only. NC DHHS, in consultation with the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, will announce by July 1 which of the three plans should be implemented for schools to most safely reopen. The remaining plans may be needed if the state’s COVID-19 metrics change over time.

     “Opening schools will be possible if we keep working together to slow the spread of COVID-19. We will each need to do our part and practice the 3 Ws – Wear a cloth face covering. Wait six feet apart. Wash your hands frequently. These easy actions will have outsized impact in keeping viral spread low to in order to help get our children back to school,” said Cohen.

     The Public Health Toolkit was developed collaboratively by DHHS and DPI with input from a range of stakeholders across the state, including local superintendents, State Board of Education members, the Governor’s Teacher Advisory Council, and members of the Governor’s COVID-19 Education and Nutrition Working Group.

     “We are working together to balance the need for all of our children to get back to school – especially children who rely on public schools for their education, health, safety and nutrition – while at the same time proceeding cautiously and deliberately to protect their health and safety,” said Chairman Davis. “I know meeting these public health requirements will take a tremendous effort by our schools – but I also know we are doing the right thing and that our schools will rise to the challenge.”

     The StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit will be a companion to operational guidance under development by DPI that will offer strategies for how to implement the public health guidance, and cover other non-health areas for reopening planning, including scheduling, instructional practice, and staff training.

     “Today, North Carolinians have the important first step of returning to schools in the fall with this release of the final health guidance for schools from the NC Department of Health and Human Services,” Superintendent Johnson said. “In addition, the North Carolina education agency has already been leading workgroups, comprised of diverse stakeholders from teachers to school staff to superintendents to other support professionals, to create draft operational strategies that will help our school systems prepare for the fall. We will now seek feedback on the draft operational strategies from other stakeholders across the state to ensure that we best capture the needs of all our schools.”

     The StrongSchoolsNC Public Heath Toolkit (K-12) was developed using the most current CDC guidance for schools and includes requirements and recommendations for eight areas: Social Distancing and Minimizing Exposure; Cloth Face Coverings; Protecting Vulnerable Populations; Cleaning and Hygiene; Monitoring for Symptoms; Handling Suspected, Presumptive or Confirmed Positive Cases of COVID-19; Communication and Combating Misinformation; Water and Ventilation Systems; Transportation; and Coping and Resilience.

     For example, it requires students and others to be screened for illness before entering school, and requires floor markings to maintain social distance. It also includes sample screening symptom checklists in English and Spanish, a flow chart protocol for handling suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a checklist of infection control supplies schools may need. The Toolkit will be updated as new health guidance is released by the CDC and additional resources are added.

     Questions about the StrongSchoolsNC Public Heath Toolkit (K-12) should be directed to StrongSchoolsNC@dhhs.nc.gov (in English or in Spanish.

Updates

     Look for continuing coverage on local impacts from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak here and in the Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.