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'A huge step' | SC students can avoid quarantine if districts implement Test to Stay program

South Carolina leaders are changing up COVID-19 testing requirements to keep more students in school.

YORK COUNTY, S.C. — South Carolina leaders are changing up COVID-19 testing requirements to keep more students in school. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) is now encouraging all school districts to implement a program called Test to Stay.

The program, if implemented by school districts, would allow unvaccinated students who are close contacts to stay in school as long as they don’t have symptoms, wear a mask, and test negative between days five to seven after exposure.

The state hopes it’ll mean fewer children having to miss out on school because they’re at home under quarantine.  

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“With Test to Stay, really there should not be children who are having to miss school to quarantine, so that’s a huge step towards getting back to our normal reality," South Carolina's Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler said.

The state has already ordered 1.6 million rapid testing kits, and 300,000 of those will be delivered to schools by the end of the week. 

Currently, the program doesn’t include teachers and staff, unless a school faces a staffing shortage crisis.

“It does only apply to students and that’s because that it is all that is has been studied in thus far," Traxler said. "It has not been studied in adults who are somewhat more likely to transmit if they’re infected.” 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voiced support for the program after it was piloted at 90 schools last fall in Lake County, Illinois.

Lake County’s regional superintendent Michael Karner said fewer students are missing out on instructional time because of the program.

“The schools are actually a very safe place," Karner said. "Test to Stay identified that there is less than 2% positivity for those students who are actually tested. So 98% of the kids when they actually participate in Test to Stay are not coming up positive for COVID.”

But Lake County’s Test to Stay Program does differ from South Carolina’s. In Lake County, students exposed to COVID-19 are tested on days one, three, five and seven after exposure. In South Carolina, students would stay in school and wear masks, but only test between days five and seven. 

Traxler said it works because testing is an addition to wearing masks and staying home if you have symptoms. 

She also acknowledged that rapid tests can produce false-positive and false-negative results.

“There are higher rates of false positives or false negatives with the rapid antigen tests than there are with the PCR tests, however, those are not high rates still," Traxler said.

On Thursday, DHEC is hosting a town hall for school district leaders to ask questions and learn more about the program. 

WCNC Charlotte reached out to school districts in York County, Lancaster County and Chester County, and representatives for all the districts said they haven't yet made a decision on the program. 

Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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