NINETY SIX – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said Friday that the Ninety Six tuberculosis outbreak is a “massive investigation’ and “will not be over quickly.”
DHEC released a statement Friday, less than 24 hours after District 52 held an impromptu public forum blaming the failure in notification on the state’s health agency. Petersen said in his opening statement that he wished to “speak to the unfortunate events surrounding the notification to the district by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental that students at Ninety Six Primary School may have been exposed to tuberculosis.”
Petersen said that the board meeting would be the last time he would speak publicly about the TB outbreak.
On Friday, DHEC spoke to the “unfortunate events” as well.
“Staff reports the school was told in March,” said DHEC Director Catherine Templeton. “In addition, the school staff was heavily involved in the investigation and was being tested. I’m not sure how the superintendent/acting principal missed it.”
The statement said that DHEC was made aware of a potential case of TB on March 8 and instructed the index patient not to return to the school. The statement also cited state law requiring anyone working in a public or private school to be tested for TB and provide a certificate from a physician stating that the individual does not have TB.
Templeton said it was DHEC that took the lead in all of the events that transpired following the confirmed test.
“It was DHEC who instructed the school to tell the parents about the potential exposure,” Templeton said. “It was DHEC who offered to host a public meeting with a medical doctor so the parents could understand the risks. It was DHEC who found funding to test the children, which was over and beyond CDC guidelines. We are here to help.”
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Richard Ervin says the damage was done before any agency was notified about the index patient potentially having TB.
“Individuals in the school were infected by March 8,” Ervin said. “The damage was done before the case was even referred to DHEC.”
The exchange of words between the school district and DHEC likely stems from two lawsuits filed this week in Greenwood County. One suit, filed by Billy Garrett, names both DHEC and the school district in the complaint and cites negligence and gross negligence in the response and notification about the TB outbreak. The second lawsuit, filed by John McCravy, names only DHEC and cites specifically that DHEC was negligent in delaying notification of the outbreak for nearly a month. Health officials have previously said that the case was confirmed as active, infectious TB on May 1. The agency did not notify the district until May 27.
The ripple effect that stems from the index patient’s case of TB is far from over, according to DHEC. The agency activated its Emergency Operations Center earlier this week, calling the outbreak a massive investigation. Templeton cautioned that the test results take time, and that this will be a lengthy and comprehensive investigation.
“We are following medical protocol, and must take the time to follow the leads where they take us,” Templeton said. “This will not be finished quickly.”
DHEC has created a new web page to provide the public with the most up-to-date, confirmed information available. It can be found by clicking the link below.
Greenwood County TB outbreak information