COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As South Carolina reported a record-high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Friday, Gov. Henry McMaster doubled down on his stance that a statewide mask requirement could not be enforced.
“There’s no way we can make somebody do something that they just don’t want to do,” McMaster told reporters Friday afternoon.
South Carolina reported 1,273 confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday and one additional death, bringing the state total to 30,263 confirmed cases and 694 deaths. Health officials also reported 906 people currently hospitalized — a record-high daily count in the state.
Both hospitalizations and the rate of positive tests have risen sharply this month, making South Carolina one of the country’s hot spots for the virus, health officials said.
Six states are now requiring that people traveling from South Carolina quarantine upon arrival, according to Director of Public Health Joan Duwve.
The number of infections in the country is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
The governor emphasized the progress the state had made in reopening businesses. He added that he was directing the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to develop a plan to allow immediate family members to visit relatives in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. McMaster is also extending the state of emergency for the pandemic.
State leaders have previously said they will not shut down the state again, calling on people to show personal responsibility by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
This week, cities including Charleston, Columbia and Greenville approved rules requiring people to wear face masks in public. Most include a $25 fine for failing to do so.
State Epidemiologist Linda Bell suggested a statewide mask rule earlier this week, telling reporters that COVID-19 appeared to be spreading too fast to wait for cities and counties to pass their own rules on face coverings.
On Friday, McMaster implored people younger than 40 to wear masks, wash their hands and stay home when sick.
State officials pointed to clusters of cases among teenagers and young adults who had gathered in social settings including beaches, saying they were putting the health of their families and communities at risk.
The governor said he was not lifting restrictions on many of the social activities and institutions frequented by young people, including nightclubs, concert venues and spectator sports, until the infection rate starts going down.
Earlier this week, state lawmakers approved about $1.2 billion in federal relief funds to deal with COVID-19, $500 million of which will go toward refilling the state’s unemployment trust fund.
Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.