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DHEC: Emergency authority for local situations, not statewide mask mandate in schools

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 6:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - The Department of Health and Environmental Control is continuing to encourage mask-wearing in South Carolina schools, but not to the length of mandating them themselves.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s Director of Public Health, said during a media briefing Wednesday that while the agency does generally have emergency authority to control the spread of disease, that authority was developed so that the agency could respond rapidly to local situations or outbreaks.

Traxler added that only some school districts in South Carolina meet this definition.

“The situation’s not the same in every single school district, so using a statewide order to apply something to all schools in this situation using our authority would be very difficult,” she said. “At this point, the school districts are all not identical.”

During the briefing, a reporter asked what would be different if the entire state is seeing high spread.

“You have different levels of mask use, voluntarily even, already among different schools and different districts,” said Traxler. “You also have different vaccination rates among the students and staff.”

DHEC was asked if an order could be issued per a particular county instead.

“That is something that I would need to defer to the lawyers about,” Traxler said. “But I know that we do - when we have this authority - it’s indication is to be used for local situations, so that is potentially the case.”

DHEC is continuing to encourage lawmakers to revise the proviso that currently prevents districts from mandating masks so that school districts can make those decisions themselves, in consultation with local and state health authorities.

RELATED COVERAGE | DHEC asks state lawmakers to consider local decision-making authority on face masks

“This approach will protect children and others from COVID-19, and very importantly, will help keep children in school,” said Ron Aiken, DHEC’s Director of Media Relations. “It will also maximize parent choice.”

DHEC emphasized their recommendation that every eligible South Carolinian receive the shot and wear a mask while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“We continue to stress appropriate distancing and hygiene practices per CDC guidelines,” Aiken said.

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