COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In the Palmetto State, more cases of the coronavirus are being reported along with deaths from COVID-19 related complications. On June 22, DHEC released new numbers, reporting that South Carolina now had 25,666 confirmed cases and 659 deaths.
While wearing a face mask out in public has been strongly recommended by health officials to help stop the spread of the virus, it has not become a state mandate.
On June 18, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell released a statement saying in part:
“Every one of us has a role to play in stopping COVID-19. 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.
It is essential that each of us, every day, wear a mask in public and stay physically distanced from others.
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. 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...”
Some cities in South Carolina have began to consider whether or not wearing masks should continue to be an option or should become mandatory if a person is out in public. Greenville city leaders have required those visiting grocery stores and pharmacies to wear masks otherwise they will be fined $25.
Employees of restaurants, bars, salons and barbershops as well as retail businesses are required to wear masks any time there is face-to-face interaction. Employees at these businesses could be fined $100 dollars if they do not wear masks. This mandate will go in effect on June 23 at noon.
In Columbia, City Council is expected to pass an ordinance on June 23 that would require face masks to be worn in public. If passed, those who do not wear a mask could face a penalty of up to a $500 fine and or 30 days in jail.
Some council members feel as though the ordinance may pass unanimously, but they were unsure if any member’s opinions would be swayed leading up to the 2 p.m. vote on June 23.
Mayors of Myrtle Beach and Sumter have also looked into mask wearing requirements as well.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune asked the city attorney to look into possible mask requirements at certain businesses. Bethune says that her inquiry was only informational and that no discussion regarding issuing an order is being made at this time.
According to the Sumter Item, Mayor Joe McElveen was unsure of the authority that a mayor, or city council, had to make such a mandate, but he strongly urged people to wear masks when they could not socially distance themselves from others. A Sumter County Council member did confirm that members where discussing the idea of having a mask requirement.
During a press conference on June 22 that addressed the rise in coronavirus cases in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster continued to strongly urge others to wear masks out in public. The governor stated that he did not make a mandate on wearing masks due to his belief that it may infringe on the rights of South Carolinians.
South Carolina Sen. Mia McLeod sent an open letter to Gov. McMaster expressing her thoughts on issuing a statewide mandate requiring that face masks should be worn out in public.
You can read her full letter below:
Our state is in a public health crisis of epic proportions. And your refusal to mandate face masks in public is wrong. Dead wrong.
We’ve long since passed our initial projections. In the last 3 months, nearly 26,000 South Carolinians have tested positive for COVID-19 and about 660 people have died because of this deadly virus.
In the last week alone, nearly 7,000 people across South Carolina tested positive for COVID-19, and 60 of them have died. Communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted, with black South Carolinians making up 27% of the population but at least 54% of the positive cases.
Now is certainly not the time for partisan politics or pandering to certain demographics. We don’t need divisive rhetoric or leaders who openly mock and deliberately defy their administrations’ own safety guidelines. Our citizens need leadership because slowing the spread of this virus is as much about leadership as it is personal responsibility.
Why haven’t we followed the science and the data? How can we continue to ignore the advice of our public health experts? Why is South Carolina one of the last states to shut down and one of the first to reopen?
Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen daily record-high numbers, averaging about 900 new cases per day. And instead of mandating face masks in public, you actually declared a new State of Emergency, reopened bowling alleys and lifted occupancy restrictions on retail establishments.
This week, Senate and House leaders are bringing 170 legislators and staffers back into session from all over SC, as staffers and lobbyists continue to test positive. No temperatures taken. No masks required.
Will we ever practice what we preach?
I would love to have our businesses, schools, beaches, sports and entertainment venues reopen when the science and public health experts determine it’s safe. But, because you reopened South Carolina too soon, our state may be forced to shut down indefinitely and face even greater economic consequences.
On April 5, I forwarded you an email I received from a gentleman who lives in Greenville County. Like many of my Richland and Kershaw County constituents, he had trouble submitting an unemployment application through SCDEW’s automated system. I appreciated the immediate response from your office, as well as the assistance you gave him.
On May 25, I forwarded you an email on behalf of a 68-year old grandmother in Richland County, whose eye doctor and his staff refused to wear protective face masks while treating her. When she asked why they weren’t masked, he told her that he “wanted to build his immune system” and that “the Coronavirus was 100,000 times overblown.”
My constituent took personal responsibility for her health. Her eye doctor didn’t. I’ve received several concerns just like hers and have to agree with her that, “a medical practice shouldn’t be a place to try out political conspiracy theories that endanger the health and lives of patients.” But, that’s what happens when there’s no leadership.
Knowing your partisan stance on protective face masks, I asked if you would at least consider mandating that healthcare providers wear them when treating patients. On June 11, a Lexington Family Medical Practice had to close temporarily after several employees tested positive.
Today is June 22, and I still haven’t heard back from you about my May 25 email.
Governor, this isn’t a partisan pandemic. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. It kills Democrats and Republicans alike. All of our constituents’ questions and concerns are valid…regardless of where they live, how they vote or who they know. Obviously, encouraging the people of SC to follow the advice of public health experts when you don’t, isn’t working.
Recently, pro golfer Justin Thomas tested positive after playing in the Heritage Golf Tournament in Hilton Head and said this: “They’re seeming not to take it (COVID-19) very seriously. It’s an absolute zoo.”
This public health emergency is arguably one of the greatest challenges of our time. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. To help slow the spread and prevent more suffering and death, please heed the advice of our public health experts. That includes wearing a mask yourself when in public and mandating that the rest of us do the same.
Giving us the occasional, “practice good hygiene” pep talk is reckless and irresponsible. The people of South Carolina are literally “dying” for you to lead, Governor.
Where are you?