COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – This week, students across South Carolina will return to school after the holiday break.

Some students who test positive for COVID-19 or are deemed close contacts will be able to return to school sooner.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has updated its quarantine and isolation policies for students and staff to reflect changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The School and Childcare Exclusion List, updated Friday, recommends new criteria for students and staff to return.

Fully vaccinated close contacts can remain in school, per state health officials.

To keep students and staff safe, DHEC Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler recommends everyone in schools wear masks and for parents to get their children vaccinated.

Right now, DHEC says about 7% of children between the ages of 5-11 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in South Carolina.

“I really strongly encourage all staff to get vaccinated and all parents of children to get them vaccinated,” Traxler said. “This is the time. We still have a lot of winter left to go. We know that vaccination, and for staff that are eligible, the booster, is the best protection against omicron.”

According to Traxler, keeping schools open can be done safely by following updated guidance.

South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said their members have expressed concerns over the possible spread of COVID-19 with classes resuming this week.

“Nobody likes dual-modality, nobody likes remote learning. That’s not how we want to teach our children,” she said, “but we also want the students and the adults to be safe.”

The state Department of Education says they encourage schools to follow the latest guidance. A spokesperson said in a statement:

We continue to encourage schools to follow the latest DHEC school operational guidance and mitigation strategies as students and staff return to classrooms in the new year. Along with DHEC, we strongly recommend schools take advantage of the free testing programs that have been made available to them. Regular testing helps ensure those that are sick stay home and those that are not remain in school learning and teaching.

Ryan Brown, Chief Communications Officer for SC Department of Education