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Rising COVID cases lead to new prevention efforts in schools

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in schools, districts are doing everything they can to keep students safe while still learning in the classroom.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all of the Midlands is classified as a high COVID-19 community spread area. The agency said some counties are seeing a much higher infection rate than others. On Tuesday, the CDC's data tracker reported Saluda County's infection rate was 17.78%.

RELATED: Are you in a 'high transmission' COVID-19 area? Here's a map – and the data behind it

With a surge in COVID cases, the Saluda County School District is limiting contact for students in 4K through 5th grade by having students eat lunch in the classroom. The district is making boxed lunches and delivering them to each room.

In Lexington County, the infection rate is 14.22%, according to the CDC. The public information officer for Lexington School District One said they are operating under the High Community Spread category on their COVID-19 mitigation plan. 

Learn about what you can expect from schools at low, moderate and high community spread levels. #OnwardAsOne #lex1back2school

Posted by Lexington County School District One on Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Some schools in Lexington One have students eat lunch in the classroom. They're also allowing recess for students, but students can only engage with their classmates on the playground. 

To keep students safe during the recent surge, Richland Two uses plexiglass barriers for their Elementary and Middle School. According to the CDC Richland County has an 8.19% infection rate.

Parents and Guardians: Effective August 25, SC DHEC revised its rules regarding close contacts for students in schools. Read more here: bit.ly/2Yflhh2

Posted by Lexington County School District One on Tuesday, August 31, 2021

RELATED: Richland Two asks SC Supreme Court to temporarily block mask mandate ban

According to their Public Information Officer, lunch for Richland District Two elementary and middle schools are on a weekly rotating basis for who gets to eat in the cafeteria and who eats in their classroom.

The School District of Lee County has the lowest infection rate in the Midlands, as of Tuesday, although the county is still considered a high spread community by the CDC. 

Lee County's infection rate is 5.35%. The school district uses plexiglass shields, signage and floor markings are in place for social distancing, and excess furniture and equipment in the building that is taking up space and not being used has been removed.

Districts continue to highly encourage mask wearing for staff and students in schools. 

Richland District One has a mask mandate in place, following Richland County's ordinance for Elementary and Middle Schools who have students younger than 12. The district is also going against the state proviso that bans schools from enforcing masks mandates.

RELATED: Richland One says it's keeping its school mask mandate for now, despite ruling

RELATED: Lexington Two passes temporary school mask mandate after 4 schools move to e-learning

Currently, over a dozen schools in the Midlands have moved virtual, including all of Clarendon District 2. 

According to the Public Information Officer for Lexington District Two, if more than 5% of the school is positive, they will move temporarily virtual.

"Our elementary school classrooms function like 'pods' where students spend the days together as a means of limiting potential exposures," said Dawn Kujawa. "In some of our elementary schools, they've elected to eat lunch in classrooms if administrators are looking to create more space to spread out in cafeterias. If someone were to test positive for COVID in a classroom, our nurses do contact tracing. Close contacts are sent home to quarantine. We also use the 5% rule -- if 5% of the school is positive or in quarantine, we move to remote learning temporarily."

RELATED: South Carolina schools forced to go virtual due to COVID-19