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Health

South Carolina Schools Chief Tests Positive For COVID-19

molly spearman 2.JPG
South Carolina Department of Education
/
ed.sc.gov
Molly Spearman is state superintendent of education in South Carolina.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The superintendent of South Carolina's public schools said Monday that she had tested positive for COVID-19, was experiencing “mild symptoms" but would continue to do her work from home.

Cases of the virus have rocketed to record highs in South Carolina recently, and the news of Superintendent Molly Spearman’s positive test came the same day that the state’s 780,000 public school children returned to classes following the holiday break.

In a tweet, Spearman said that she learned on Sunday she had tested positive for the virus on Dec. 31 and “is fortunate to have only mild symptoms.”

Spearman said she had already been quarantining after her husband and son tested positive earlier last week. While isolating, Spearman said, “I plan to continue to work from home and meet virtually as so many others in the education community have done this school year.”

A spokesman for the Education Department said Monday that Spearman was primarily experiencing fatigue and had participated in several virtual meetings during the day.

Spearman, 66, has been chief of South Carolina's public school system since 2015. Amid the ongoing pandemic, some schools are holding in-person instruction, while many are using a hybrid of in-person and virtual schooling.

Spearman is the latest South Carolina public official who has contracted COVID-19. Just before Christmas, Gov. Henry McMaster's office announced that the 73-year-old Republican had tested positive and would receive outpatient monoclonal antibody treatment for “mild symptoms.” His wife, 73-year-old Peggy McMaster, also tested positive but was asymptomatic. A spokesman said Monday both were “out of isolation and feeling well.”

Other South Carolina officials, including Lt. Gov. Pam Evette and U.S. Reps. Joe Cunningham and Tom Rice, have previously contracted and recovered from COVID-19, as did Nancy Mace, the Republican who unseated Cunningham in the November election.

In mid-December, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson also announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, the same day he gave a floor speech in the House of Representatives.

Also Monday, health officials defended plans to distribute the coronavirus vaccine in South Carolina, as the state's positivity rate climbed to unforeseen territory.

South Carolina, which has set records for daily cases in the past week, is marking more than 3,600 new cases a day when averaged out over seven days, nearly double the new cases from the state’s summer peak that caused alarm nationally. The state’s death toll just surpassed 5,000 people.

On Monday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reported that one out of every three people tested in the state came back positive for COVID-19. The goal earlier in the pandemic was to try to only have one positive test out of every 20.

South Carolina has given out more than 43,000 of the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, or about 38% of the total supply, according to Dr. Brandon Traxler, interim state public health director. Statistics on how many doses of the Moderna vaccine the state should expect have not been released by the federal government, Traxler said Monday.

State health officials said they would stick to a plan to vaccinate health care workers and nursing home residents first, asking for patience as kinks are worked out of an unprecedented immunization plan that requires super-cold storage.

“It just takes a couple or a few weeks to get into a smooth rhythm,” Traxler said.

Lawmakers from both parties demanded faster action. In a statement, state Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, called officials' request for patience “simply not acceptable.”

Republican Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort sent a letter asking Gov. McMaster to use his executive authority to get vaccines into pharmacies, expand eligibility and loosen regulations on who can give the shots, calling the current plan “too restrictive and bureaucratic.”

Jeffrey Collins contributed.

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