DHEC director fears ‘more grim milestones ahead,’ says lawmakers should consider removal of mask restrictions

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COLUMBIA, S.C. ― DHEC issued a statement on Friday saying due to the surge in new COVID-19 cases, lawmakers should consider the removal of mask restrictions.

“The trend is going in the wrong direction,” DHEC wrote in the statement. “The expected surge in new cases once children returned to school across South Carolina and the proliferation of the highly transmissible Delta variant has fueled a spike that requires our attention and legislative consideration of the removal of masking restrictions.”

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reported a total of 6,697 new cases of COVID-19 on Aug. 25, the third-highest total in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

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.

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.

“The reports tell us 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,” the statement reads. “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.

“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.”

Find a vaccine location near you at schdec.gov/vaxlocator.

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