‘Symptomatic’ South Carolina elementary student who visited school nurse was held in storage closet

An elementary school student who attends Myrtle Beach Elementary School in South Carolina visited the school nurse for COVID-19-like symptoms and was placed in a storage closet to isolate themselves from other students, district officials say.

District officials say the storage closet was used because of a lack of spacing.

In a statement to FOX TV Stations, officials said that some areas within school health rooms have been repurposed as "isolation areas" for symptomatic students. 

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"Ideally, the dedicated isolation area will be inside the health room in order that the student can be visually monitored by the school nurse while the student waits for his/her parents to transport him/her home," a Horry County Schools District (HCS) spokesperson wrote. "In the case of Myrtle Beach Elementary School, a former walk-in storage room located inside the health room and within view of the school nurse is designated as the isolation area for a symptomatic student."

The spokesperson added that if a parent is not able to pick up their child who is sick until later in the day, the child will be moved from the school’s isolation area to an unoccupied conference room where they may be isolated and supervised by an adult.

HCS said Thursday that it currently provides 5-day, face-to-face instruction for all elementary schools and has begun phasing the return of face-to-face instruction for its middle schools. 

After seeing two academic years thrown off course by the pandemic, school leaders around the country are planning for the possibility of more distance learning next fall at the start of yet another school year.

"We have no illusions that COVID will be eradicated by the time the start of the school year comes up," said William "Chip" Sudderth III, a spokesperson for Durham, North Carolina schools, whose students have been out of school buildings since March.

President Joe Biden has made reopening schools a top priority, but administrators say there is much to consider as new strains of the coronavirus appear and teachers wait their turn for vaccinations.

And while many parents are demanding that schools fully reopen, others say they won’t feel safe sending children back to classrooms until vaccines are available to even young students. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top public health expert, said late last month the Biden administration hopes to begin vaccinating children by late spring or early summer.

By then, districts will be deep into preparations for the next school year.

"As far as 2021-22, at least some part of that school year is likely still going to be pandemic response-related on the assumption that children won’t have access to the vaccine, or at least many won’t," said Superintendent Brian Woods, of Northside Independent School District, among the largest districts in Texas.

That could mean a more teacher-friendly version of the mix of in-person and remote learning happening now, one that doesn't require teachers to simultaneously instruct two groups. That could be accomplished either by splitting staffing or rearranging schedules, he said, adding longer term may see an all-remote option for students who have moved on permanently from traditional school.

In Durham, North Carolina, schools — which has been fully remote since March — announced last month that it would remain that way through the end of the current academic year.

Beyond that, Sudderth said, "the prevalence of the disease will determine what we are able to do."

The guideline for whether the 32,000-student district could move from remote to hybrid learning in January was a testing positivity rate below 4%. But it’s unclear whether that metric or others that until now have been set by states or districts will hold.

Biden, in an early executive order, directed his education secretary to provide "evidence-based guidance" and advice to schools to safely conduct in-person learning.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.