Gov. McMaster says he won’t mandate masks, pleads with residents as S.C. becomes hot spot for COVID-19

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and state health officials are pleading with residents to...
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and state health officials are pleading with residents to practice social distancing and wear masks as South Carolina has become a hot spot for the coronavirus.(Gov. Henry McMaster/Twitter)
Updated: Jun. 26, 2020 at 9:19 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and state health officials are pleading with residents to practice social distancing and wear masks as South Carolina has become a hot spot for the coronavirus.

“For goodness sake, wear your mask, keep that distance,” McMaster said.

The governor says the state cannot mandate everyone to wear a mask. He says it is ineffective, impractical and unenforceable to have a statewide mandatory mask requirement.

Gov. McMaster extended the state of emergency and says he has no plans to lift restrictions on nightclubs, concert venues, theaters, spectator sports and other venues that draw large crowds until the COVID-19 infection rate goes down.

The governor says he wants nursing homes to limit visitation, only allowing immediate family members. McMaster says South Carolina schools are continuing to prepare for in-person instruction in the Fall.

McMaster says despite rise in COVID-19 cases, he won’t close beaches as July 4 approaches. He will leave that decision up to individual governments.

There are now 30,263 confirmed cases statewide. There are more than 900 residents hospitalized with the virus. The state also confirmed 694 virus-related deaths.

On Friday, officials announced 1,273 new confirmed coronavirus cases, marking 1,000 new cases six times in the past eight days.

Of the 7,885 inpatient beds currently used, 906 are occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19. The percent positive is 18.3%.

South Carolina is getting national attention as one of the worst states in the country for coronavirus cases. Over the past two weeks, the state has been breaking records for single-day increases in positive COVID-19 cases.

New York, one of the original epicenters of the virus in the country, is asking South Carolina residents to quarantine for two weeks when they come. Dr. Linda Bell says that goes for Connecticut and New Jersey as well.

South Carolina is a risk for spreading the virus to places that have it better under control. Health leaders say a mask requirement statewide would be helpful, and local places requiring masks helps too but not as fast.

A health advisory from the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) recommends that residents who’ve traveled to Myrtle Beach over the past two weeks self-quarantine.

The Preston County Health Department in West Virginia is now asking all residents that have traveled back to the county from Myrtle Beach or any other crowded vacation destination in the last two weeks to self-quarantine for 14 days.

United Airlines has temporarily suspended service to Myrtle Beach due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the airline announced Wednesday.

South Carolina health officials have set a new goal of testing about 165,000 residents for coranavirus each month, which is up about 55,000 from its May goal. Health officials said the goal increased to 140,000 for June, and it will be 165,000 tests conducted per month for the rest of the year.

“The increases that we’re seeing serve as a warning that young adults and youth are not immune to COVID-19,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC physician consultant. “They also tell us that younger South Carolinians are not taking social distancing seriously.”

Since April 4, data from the agency shows that there had been a 413.9% increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases among the 21-30 age group, and a 966.1% increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases among the 11-20 age group.

New S.C COVID-19 data
New S.C COVID-19 data(SC DHEC)

This data follows national trends that indicate a growing number of young adults and youth being confirmed to have COVID-19.

“While it is true that most youth and younger adults with COVID-19 only experience a mild illness, that is not true for all,” Traxler said. “In addition, it’s important to remember that even with mild or no symptoms you can spread the disease to those around you – your friends, teammates, and family. We’re calling on our younger generation of South Carolinians to be leaders in their communities by taking actions to stop the spread of COVID-19. Lead by example and use your voice to let others know that social distancing and wearing a mask in public helps save lives.”

“Every one of us has a role to play in stopping COVID-19,” Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said. “This virus does not spread on its own. It’s spread around our state by infected people who carry it wherever they go – their work, the supermarket, the post office, a friend’s house. By not following public health precautions, many are putting all at risk.”

Bell urges people in South Carolina to wear face coverings when out in public. She also said that the number of new cases shows that the virus is still very much active in the state.

“We understand that what we’re continuing to ask of everyone is not easy and that many are tired of hearing the same warnings and of taking the same daily precautions, but this virus does not take a day off,” Bell said. “Every day that we don’t all do our part, we are extending the duration of illnesses, missed work, hospitalizations and deaths in our state.

“There is no vaccine for COVID-19. There are only individual behaviors and actions we must all maintain that help stop its spread.”

  • A confirmed case is an individual who had a confirmatory viral test performed by way of a throat or nose swab and that specimen tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. A positive viral test, also called a PCR test or molecular test, alone is enough to classify a confirmed case.
  • A probable case is an individual who has not had a confirmatory viral test performed but has epidemiologic evidence and clinical evidence of infection, or a positive antibody blood test and either epidemiologic evidence or clinical evidence.
  • A confirmed death is someone whose death is related to COVID-19 and who tested positive with a confirmatory viral test for COVID-19.
  • A probable death is an individual whose death certificate lists COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV-2 as a cause of death or a significant condition contributing to death but did not undergo confirmatory viral testing.

A new webpage provides information about probable cases and deaths and will be updated to reflect the most current CDC recommendations for reporting this new information.

“As the number of tests being performed increases, so do the number of cases, we would expect that,” Dr. Joan Duwve, with DHEC, said. “However, that percent positive rate continues to increase, as well, which tells us that we are finding more real cases -- not just cases that were asymptomatic and not otherwise diagnosed.”

Since the state has mostly reopened, and Gov. Henry McMaster has stated lockdowns will not return, Duwve stressed the importance of people taking action to fight the spread of COVID-19.

The two things people can do are simple: social distance and wear a mask. Duwve said people just aren’t doing that, and that’s why cases are spiking.

“We all have work to do,” she said. “We need to lead by example.”

She said at this point in the outbreak, each person diagnosed will likely infect between two to four other people.

“So we will continue to see that rapid rise until we start practicing what we know can prevent the spread of this infection,” Duwve explained.

There is still a significant risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus in a public setting in any community. To reduce the spread, health officials advise everyone to take following precautions:

  • Maintain social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others
  • Wear a cloth mask that covers your nose and mouth while in public
  • Avoid touching frequently touched items
  • Regularly wash your hands
  • Monitor for symptoms and stay home when sick

People should stay home and get tested for the coronavirus if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • sore throat
  • loss of smell
  • vomiting, nausea and/or diarrhea

For the latest information about bed utilization rates, testing, telehealth options and more, you can visit DHEC’s interactive maps were updated to include the latest confirmed and estimated COVID-19 cases by county and ZIP code.

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