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School districts await DHEC back-to-school guidance as AAP advises all students wear masks

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 7:46 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2021 at 7:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As COVID-19 cases increase once again in South Carolina, school districts across the state are not allowed to require their students and staff to mask up this school year, which begins next month.

But new guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends families pack a mask for their students anyways and tell them to wear it.

The AAP advises everyone ages 2 and older to mask up at school, regardless of their vaccination status, because so many students are still not eligible to receive the COVID vaccine.

At this point, people 12 and older can get vaccinated, but the FDA has said emergency authorization could come this winter to allow children younger than 12 to receive the vaccine.

Meanwhile, DHEC said it is still crafting its own back-to-school guidance for South Carolina schools and plans to put that out “soon.” The department added, “In general, we strongly recommend mask-wearing for individuals who have not been fully vaccinated and are still recommending handwashing and other safety protocols for all residents.”

A proviso signed by Gov. Henry McMaster that went into effect July 1 prohibits school districts from enforcing mask mandates for students and staff.

Richland County School District One is among the districts now encouraging its staff and students do the same and wear masks this school year.

“That is yet another way to make sure as best as possible our students and staff remain safe during this time,” Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said.

South Carolina school districts have started releasing their own back-to-school plans, detailing steps they will take to mitigate the virus’ spread.

But some, like Richland One and District Five of Lexington & Richland Counties, said their plans could change based on DHEC’s upcoming guidance, which the department is developing based on CDC K-12 recommendations. Among other actions, that guidance advises everyone ages 2 and older who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask indoors at school.

“What we’ve done in the past and what we will continue to do moving forward is periodically meet with those state officials, ask questions,” Witherspoon said.

With COVID-19 cases rising as the start of the school year moves closer — and as the delta variant spreads —Witherspoon has another request for everyone: get vaccinated.

“As community spread increases, that does increase the possibility of COVID-19 in our schools, with our families, and so forth, so anything we can do as a community to lower that risk, we encourage that to happen,” he said.

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