COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Lawmakers heard from health officials and education leaders on Wednesday on where South Carolina stands when it comes to the COVID-19 response.
The Reopen South Carolina Select Committee heard reports on testing and contact tracing, reports from the Department of Education on the districts’ plans for reopening schools, as well as a report from the Department of Health and Environmental Control about the latest numbers.
DHEC officials stressed that numbers have been trending in the right direction, but both lawmakers and health officials agreed that more work needs to be done to increase testing and make it safe for students to return to in-person learning.
The Testing and Tracing Subcommittee gave their final recommendations during Wednesday’s hearing, recommending a goal of testing 10% of the state’s population a month, which would more than double the amount of testing currently happening.
“We need to act aggressively and we need to act now,” Dr. Joane Duwve, DHEC’s Director of Public Health said.
Dr. Duwve said that increasing testing is key to continuing to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Recently our coronavirus numbers, while still concerning have been trending in a positive direction and for that to continue, none of us can let up. We must be ever vigilant to take aggressive measures to reign in this virus and those measures include increasing testing so we can identify those pockets of the virus in our communities,” Dr. Duwve said.
However, some lawmakers questioned why more testing isn’t already happening.
“I am not satisfied with South Carolina’s response to the coronavirus, I don’t think anyone on this committee is, I’m not speaking for them, but I can’t imagine they are,” Senator Vincent Sheheen, District 27, said.
Dr. Duwve said having enough PPE and testing supplies has been an issue.
“But if we are going to meet our testing capacity we have to overcome some challenges,” Dr. Duwve said.
Dr. Duwve said DHEC will need more funding to hire additional staff, order more PPE and testing supplies, and expand contact tracing.
“At the end of the day, whether we are successful or not will depend on whether our state agencies perform well and this squarely says DHEC we are counting on you to do it, and that message needs to be loud and clear,” Senator Vincent Sheheen said.
One concern that Dr. Duwve said she has is meeting the 10% testing goal is that testing dropped over the last month to 3.4%. She said this isn’t because there aren’t enough testing locations but rather she believes there’s testing fatigue leading to fewer people turning out for the testing events.
“People are just kind of tired, saying we’ve had testing events in the community, I’ve already been tested, I don’t want to go back and be tested again,” Dr. Duwve said.
DHEC’s Interim director Marshall Taylor said DHEC is rolling out weekly testing events in every county and contracting 4 additional private labs to process tests.
The Department of Social Services also gave a report on their work to contact the over 3,000 students that schools haven’t heard from since the Spring. They say they have contacted over 500 of those students, and are continuing to work to make contact with the rest.
The Department of Education also reported to the committee that 17 districts will be starting school in the next month face to face 48 will be starting with a hybrid schedule and 14 districts will be starting virtually.