COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Governor Henry McMaster encouraged South Carolinians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and variant during a Monday press conference in Columbia.
“Now is a great time to do it while we’re getting ready for the fall,” he said. “A lot of activity going on, football games are starting again. Now is a great time—if you are ready to get that vaccination, go ahead and get it.”
The governor’s press conference comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant. Lowcountry hospitals recently reported increasing inpatient COVID-19 cases, many of whom were not fully vaccinated.
“We know that it spreads more easily, but there is some difference between that and the original virus,” he said. “But shutting down our state, closing our schools, and masking our children is the wrong thing to do and we are not going to do it.”
As schools prepare to return for a year of fully in-person instruction, the propensity for disease spread remains high, yet children under the age of 12 are still unable to be vaccinated.
But Gov. McMaster said he will not mandate masks be worn in our schools. “Masks are not necessary in the schools, they do need to have the school mandating that, it ought to be up to the parent,” he said.
Governor McMaster has written it into law that schools receiving public funding will be cut off financially should they attempt to implement mask mandates.
“I think it’s very clear what the parents want and that is they want to have the choice and I think they ought to have it,” McMaster said previously.
Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin proposed an ordinance requiring masks for students in all Columbia City Schools, the ordinance was later passed by City Council. Governor McMaster is questioning the legality of the ordinance saying he won’t allow mandated mask wearing for students.
“I believe that the parents know what is best for their child,” said McMaster. “They know what the implications, ramifications are for distance learning which we know did not work very well at all.”
Still, he continued to acknowledge one way to slow the spread of COVID-19 was by getting vaccinated – even noting that he and his family have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
“It’s free, it’s convenient, the lines are not like they used to be – you can get right in and get out,” he said Monday. “Studies show that all three of the vaccines are highly effective against COVID-19 and the new variant when you’ve taken both shots in the case of Pfizer and Moderna and the one case of J&J.”
Lowcountry schools are deciding whether masks should be required. Jeff Borowy, Chief Operating Officer for the Charleston County School District says masks come with positives and negatives for students.
“You have to balance the benefits of a mask, both from an educational perspective and a safety perspective,” says Borowy. “I think that answer is right for some kids and not right for other kids. I think everybody is different.”
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise across the state with the Delta variant. With students set to return to the classroom, Borowy said some safety measures like plexiglass have been removed but student safety remains top of mind.
“We still want to maintain physical distancing,” said Borowy. “We still want a cohort of classes as much as possible, keeping the same kids together.”
It’s a battle that could play out before school begins. Attorney General Alan Wilson is expected to rule on the legality of mask mandates sometime this week. Governor McMaster says the choice should be made at home.
“A matter for each individual to decide,” said Gov. McMaster. “And for their family and parents to make those decisions for children.”
Charleston County School District and Dorchester District Two plan to discuss masks during meetings on Monday night. Berkeley County’s new superintendent plans to address COVID-19 changes on Tuesday night.