COVID slamming Darlington County schools
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
All told, surging cases of COVID-19 have temporarily knocked about 802 students and 99 employees out of Darlington County public schools, Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the school board Jan. 10. These figures will be outdated by the time you read this story. But Newman said that, as of Friday, Jan. 7, about 49 district employees had tested positive for COVID and 50 more were quarantined. As of the same date, 174 students had tested positive and 628 more were in quarantine. (The Darlington County school district serves about 10,000 students total.) Newman told the board: “The biggest thing we’re all trying to do is work our way through this, to come out on the other side. We’ve done this before. We’ve navigated this before and been able to come out on the other side. The goal is to continue to do that.” Districtwide, Newman said, officials are seeing about 15 percent absences. But when you break it down by schools, the numbers rise. “Some of our larger schools, especially our high schools, it’s between 25 to 30 percent absences that they have right now. Not all of that is COVID. … Not only are we dealing with COVID, but we’re dealing with flu, we’re dealing with strep throat, we’re dealing with stomach bugs, and everything else that’s out there.” “Thankfully, we’ve been able to cover classes,” despite faculty members being out, Newman said. “ … Anybody that’s in our buildings right now is chipping in to help out and cover classes.” “I think everybody understands now that the best place for our students is to be in our buildings. We believe that’s the safest place for our students to be, and that’s the place they can be to learn the best as well,” Newman said. The district is going to “stay in school as long as we’re able to stay in school,” he said. He said “several” classrooms have had to be quarantined. He said the district is prepared to quarantine an entire school if necessary. The district, Newman said, would only go to “virtual learning” if “a significant majority of our buildings had to be closed down” because too many teachers and staffers were out to provide supervision. “We are covering,” Newman told the board. “We are hanging in there. … If we could just see a glimmer of hope of this coming to an end, I think all of us would be very relieved.” Newman said the current surge of COVID – most of it the Omicron mutation – isn’t comparable to what’s come before. “It stands on its own.” By coincidence, the board’s regular January meeting fell on the same day that the school district began offering free COVID-19 tests to all students, faculty and staff. Soon, the district hopes to expand the test sites to Hartsville and Lamar, but for now, all the free testing was being done at a drive-up tent in front of the district’s headquarters on East Smith Avenue in Darlington. Newman told the school board that on the first day, about 137 people had been tested. Tests will be conducted at this location from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you have questions about this COVID-19 testing program, contact the Office of Communications at 843-398-2284.