South Carolina’s Children Are At Risk Due to the Lack of Mask Requirements and Low Vaccination Rates
Due to the most recent developments in South Carolina that masks nor much other (if any) COVID guidelines will be implemented in public schools at this point in the year, I am sharing the letter I sent to the Greenville County School Board (GCSB) a couple of weeks ago. Following the letter is a description of some actions I have taken since.
Note that in my email below, I made this a bit more personal because the people to whom I was writing know my son. However, whenever my son’s name is mentioned, assume that his name can be substituted with “South Carolina children.” Here is my letter:
I thought about calling y’all, but figured it might be good to have a note to be able to show someone if you are keeping track of parent concerns regarding COVID in 2021 or might want to pass along my email to other school board members.
I’m sure it’s not much of a surprise that I am extremely concerned about Polk starting school at Blythe in August due to COVID. The vaccination rates are abysmal in South Carolina, in part due to the fact that vaccinations are widely available and yet our Governor does not see the need to take measures that will save lives.
With the increased susceptibility of those who are un-vaccinated and the continuing mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, our children who are unvaccinated face unknown risk at this point. Although research has thus far indicated that children with asthma (like Polk) fare no worse than other children when it comes to their sickness level due to COVID, the increasing number of children who are being hospitalized due to the Delta variant causes greater concern. This means that the additional mutations (of which there are at least 2 more at this point) could prove even more concerning for unvaccinated children’s wellness.
As I am sure you are aware, the ability for safe return to normal activities is reliant upon community adherence to best practices and vaccinations. In contrast, mask mandates have been lifted, leaving the rest of us to follow an honor system that was already breached by the lack of adherence among many in Greenville County even when restrictions and mandates were in place. As of today, Greenville County has the third worst rate of COVID cases in the state — little surprise here, since this is a notoriety that Greenville County has maintained along the pandemic. The rate of vaccinations in Greenville County highly depends upon a person’s zip code…and the rate for having completed both doses is currently 4,698 per 10,000 residents (https://scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccination-dashboard).
The latest report from the CDC indicates a significant increase in cases among children ages 5–12 within just the past month alone: https://www.cdc.gov/library/covid19/07162021_covidupdate.html.
I’m saying all this because these are the reasons I am worried about Polk being in school starting next month, as this situation will continue to worsen at the current rate. I think I understand the reasons why the choice is either full-year virtual or full-year in-person, however I do not trust fellow Greenvillians to follow basic precautions. I wonder if there’s a way to put children who do not mask into separate classrooms, or allow children who plan to be vaccinated to start in-person a couple of months into the school year? I do not want Polk to miss out on the entire school year that he is so much looking forward to after being out of contact with peers since March 2020…but I do want him to be safe, and safe from the lasting effects of COVID.
I know y’all are working hard to keep our children safe. I hope this email helps in our efforts.
Amanda McDougald Scott, Ph.D.
My suggestion at the end of the letter was made due to the decision of Governor McMaster and the General Assembly of South Carolina that masks cannot be required or mandated in schools or by local governments. The particular suggestion that I made was erroneously based on the assumption that the same waivers to opt out of masks would be issued to children, thus making the separation of children according to masking preference more doable. Upon talking with a local school principal, I found that this waiver was not intended to be used for the 2021–2022 school year. However, I maintain my thinking that this claim that it is impossible to separate children into these categories lacks creativity…unless there’s something else I’m missing. When there’s a will, there’s usually a way.
Before yesterday’s GCSB meeting, I remained somewhat hopeful that some solutions would be realized and implemented to help keep our children safe. This hope was unfortunately in vain. Multiple schools claim that it would be “impossible” for them to separate children into masked and un-masked classrooms. I think this conclusion is the result of a lack of both creativity and courage…unless, of course, there is just not enough WILL to keep children safe from COVID.
What I have found in my calls to elected officials is that there is a lot of passing the buck on who is responsible for this, all the way up to the Governor’s Office. When I shared my concerns about young children who are still ineligible to be vaccinated, the staffer informed me that it was not the Governor’s responsibility, and I needed to reach out to the General Assembly. I do not accept this premise, and told her as much. If the Governor did not agree with it, he could have vetoed the budget or asked for that item about masks and schools to be removed. He has demonstrated that he is unafraid to use his veto power. Clearly, he agreed.
This is a public health crisis, and our children’s lives (and teachers, et cetera) are endangered because of irresponsible leadership. We must hold our elected officials accountable — and also ensure that redistricting is done in a way that can help us hold them accountable (see my testimony about this in “Redistricting in South Carolina” on my Medium page).
Please call your elected officials and let them know how you feel about this issue. Do it to protect our children, if for no other reason.