Experts ‘clear the air’ on COVID-19 in the classroom after CCSD sees 800+ student cases in 2 months

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- A recent spike in cases across Charleston County School District (CCSD) has many people asking ‘what’s the cause?’

A report from the medical University of South Carolina shows about 800 student cases across the Charleston County School District  in just January and February of this year. 

“There are about 3x as many cases as there were in the 1st semester.”

Dr. Allison Eckard, MUSC

Dr. Allison Eckard, a pediatric specialist from MUSC, says the spike was likely caused by events happening outside the classroom.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the recent holiday season; people are tired of the Pandemic. They want things to go back to normal and they’re allowing their children to participate in more high-risk activities now than they did in the first semester,” says Dr. Eckard.

District leaders are echoing Dr. Eckard’s explanation, saying, they are confident in the mitigation efforts they’ve had in the place since the very beginning.

CCSD’s Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Borowy, says the recent hotspot of cases at Lucy Beckham High School, prompting the district to shut down in-person classes for a week, is “an anomaly.”

“As we saw the numbers going up, we just thought ‘hey, we’ve got an e-learning day today and Monday. On Friday teachers get their vaccines, so we decided ‘let’s take a step back,'” says Borowy.

CCSD officials say they are not worried about their facilities having what they need to fight COVID-19. However, some teachers in the state are concerned about what’s going on in their schools.

A recent survey of 2000 teachers by the advocacy group SC for Ed, shows a number of South Carolina educators do not feel they have the means necessary to keep their students and themselves safe in the classroom.

The data claims about half of teachers in the state can’t open their windows. The group says this is a concern because of the recent guidance from the centers for disease control that opening classroom windows can help circulate fresh air. 

Steve Nuzum, an English Teacher and representative for SC for Ed, says he was shocked but not surprised by the results of the survey.

“About half of the teachers said they could open a window, however, many teachers in the free response section said they did have windows, but they weren’t allowed to open them,” says Nuzum.

That said, Dr. Eckert believes the CDC’s guidance should be taken with a grain of salt and used on a case by case basis. For example, she thinks some schools, especially older buildings with less efficient HVAC units, could benefit from being able to open a window and let fresh air in.

However, she says there are some potential red flags when opening windows of a classroom.

“In many schools, opening windows is a safety and security issue. And just like everything at school, we have to balance the risk versus the benefit,” she says.

As for the schools that are not allowed to open windows, Charleston County School District says their HVAC units cannot function properly if windows are open; especially during the summer months.

“For those of us that have lived in South Carolina, you don’t wanna leave your windows open with pollen season and the humidity. That’s the big thing. We can’t run our air handling systems with the windows open,” says Borowy.

CCSD officials say they are confident in the heavy duty air filters they installed in every school over the summer. Borowy showed Examples of the 2 types of filters they use (see below). Both claim to be great at filtering out viruses and pollutants from the air better than a typical filter found in a home.

Both Borowy and Dr. Eckard Believe it is very important to keep school mitigation efforts in place, especially as teachers go through the process of getting vaccinated. 

According to Borowy, about 2,000 teachers across the district have been able to get their vaccinations, and another 2,000 are expected to get their doses by the end of the week. 

Dr. Eckard says it’s likely students won’t be considered for vaccinations until clinical trials have produced enough data. She expects that will take anywhere from 6-12 months.

If you’d like to stay updated with the latest numbers Charleston County school district’s COVID-19 dashboard can be accessed by clicking here.