DHEC: Lawmakers should consider removing ban on mask mandates following COVID spike
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Health officials say South Carolina lawmakers should consider removing a ban on mask mandates following a spike of COVID-19 cases in the state.
On Friday, officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported a total of 6,697 new cases of COVID-19 which is the third-highest total in a single day since the start of the pandemic. According to DHEC, not since the state reported 7,680 cases on Jan. 6 and 7,450 on Jan. 8 has the state seen so many positive tests on one day.
DHEC officials said the trend is “going in the wrong direction,” and say the expected surge in new cases following the return of children to school and the spread of the Delta variant which has fueled a spike “requires attention and legislative consideration of the removal of masking restrictions.”
A law in the state budget states that no state funds can be used to mandate masks or enforce a mask mandate. The temporary law, or proviso, states, “No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities.”
“We have to pay close attention to what these numbers are telling us about the virus’ behavior and understand the risk we’re facing,” said Dr. Ed Simmer, DHEC Director. “Without a corresponding surge in vaccinations to meet this challenge and universal indoor masking in public places, my fear is that more grim milestones are ahead. My hope, however, is that we will rise to meet this challenge by getting all eligible South Carolinians vaccinated so together we can end this pandemic.”
On Friday afternoon, state health officials said reports show that more young people are getting COVID-19, more are requiring hospitalization, and more are being put on ventilators than at any time in the pandemic, and the school year has only just begun.
“Unfortunately, young people are also less likely to be vaccinated, putting them at higher risk – only about 20 percent of those 12–19 are fully vaccinated in South Carolina, and those under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, requiring other means, such as mask wearing and social distancing, to protect them from COVID-19,” DHEC officials said.
State health officials say just two months ago, following an initial wave of vaccinations and schools being out for summer vacations, the state recorded back-to-back days on June 19 and 20 of less than 100 cases statewide.
“Now, South Carolina has not been below 1,000 cases since July 24 and has had two days with more than 5,000 cases and two with more than 4,000 in the last two weeks,” DHEC officials said.
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