State officials announced Tuesday that South Carolina's public schools will remain closed through the month of April to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The announcement came one hour before Aiken Regional Medical Centers confirmed a second person in Aiken County tested positive for COVID-19.
The patient is quarantined at their residence and COVID-19 test results for additional Aiken County patients are pending, Director of Marketing Ashlee Brewer said in an email.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said in a joint statement that the move to close all public schools, colleges, universities and technical colleges is to "protect the health and safety of South Carolinians."
Schools will be reopened before the end of April if it becomes "safe" to do so, according to the statement.
However, state health officials are projecting South Carolina's coronavirus outbreak will only worsen in the coming weeks.
“As the number of cases and community spread expectedly increase in our state, we reiterate the importance of taking daily prevention practices to protect yourself and your community,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, DHEC physician, in a press release. “We all have the responsibility to protect ourselves, our families, friends and community.”
DHEC announced 44 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed in patients across the state on March 24, bringing South Carolina's total coronavirus count up to 342 cases across 36 counties.
Five people have died from the virus in South Carolina.
For now, all public schools and higher education institutions are encouraged by state officials to continue instruction through virtual learning.
The Aiken County Public School District released a statement Tuesday saying details on plans to continue distance learning would be announced in the coming days.
"Our Curriculum Team is working at this time to plan student engagement activities, in collaboration with teachers," the statement reads. "We recognize that this is a difficult time for our families and community and have urged them to focus on the health and emotional well-being of themselves and their children first. Our team of counselors will be announcing opportunities for virtual services and support to assist parents and guardians in discussing COVID-19 with children and supporting their emotional needs."
Distance learning packets were distributed at schools and online last week after McMaster issued an executive order closing schools through the end of March.
Packets contain learning materials from their classes, while teachers are available to help answer questions through remote communication.
From 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. on weekdays, teachers will be available to assist students through email, phone calls and video chat.
Students are required to complete 200 minutes of instruction per day, according to the school district.