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South Columbus High will close for a week due to COVID outbreak


     Students at South Columbus High School will be home next week, the campus shut down due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

     Staff will be on campus, conducting virtual lessons and isolated to their classrooms, SCHS Assistant Principal Michelle Simmons said.

     (Corrects initial reporting that students and staff will be home.)

     Students will be in virtual classrooms for the week “due to the high number of COVID positives,” a school district news release said. “This time could be extended as dictated by the number of COVID infections in the immediate community. We will decide regarding a return to in-person instruction at the end of the week.”

     Current plans are for students and staff not sick or in quarantine to return to school on Tuesday, Sept. 7, with all county schools closed for Labor Day on Sept. 6.

     A COVID-19 activity report on current outbreaks across the county schools, issued Thursday, showed South Columbus with 20 new cases, nearly a third of the 65 for all of the county schools combined.

     Williams Township School followed with 11 new cases, with the rest of the schools reporting no more than six cases, Hallsboro Artesia Elementary with none.

     There have been 92 positive COVID cases among staff and students at South Columbus since Aug. 9, the news release said.

     “There is also a confirmed cluster centered around the football team,” the news release said. “Most positives, however, are coming from community spread of the virus.”

     Students and staff at South Columbus were notified of the closing Friday morning, school district spokesman Kelly Jones said.

     Students will be able to connect with teachers during the week online, through Google Classroom.

     “They use Google Classroom even in the classroom,” Jones said.

     Only a handful of students across the county are attending school virtually this year, parents making those decisions last spring, as COVID-19 vaccinations were picking up, and the hope for beginning to beat back the coronavirus and turn the pandemic around loomed large.

     That has changed this summer, with vaccination rates much lower than health officials had hoped, the delta variant of the virus proving much more transmissible and a bigger threat for younger people than the initial virus that began circulating widely in the US in late winter 2020.

     High schools across Columbus County opened Aug. 9, two weeks earlier than the lower grades, and South Columbus quickly emerged as the hot spot for COVID-19 cases, 44 in the first two weeks, with 34 staff or students placed in quarantine.

     Jones stressed that no COVID cases have been traced to on-campus exposures.

     “It’s just so prevalent in the community,” Jones said.

     “We all want a return to normal,” the news release said. “Our students have suffered academically, athletically and socially because of the disruptions created by the pandemic. We need students back in school, but in order to do so, WE NEED YOUR HELP.

     “Please curtail all social activities and gatherings to the greatest extent possible. If a gathering must happen, observe masks and social distancing. If there is a suspected exposure or symptoms in your home, do not send your students to school.

     “Vaccines, if desired, are another way to avoid school closures and quarantines.”

     Health officials and others, including almost all Columbus County Commissioners during recent meetings, have more forcefully encouraged vaccinations as a way to stem the tide of new COVID cases and turn the pandemic around.

     “This is not the start for which we had hoped, but if we can pull together and observe safety protocols in our communities, churches and homes, we should be able to return to normal quickly,” the news release ended. “Please monitor social media and school and district websites for updates.”

     Look for more on this story here as events warrant, and in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.