As CDC recommends masks for K-12 students, Horry County rep says decision should stay with parents

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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina’s ban on mask requirements in schools is likely here to stay, according to state Rep. William Bailey.

Bailey, R-Horry County, said that most members of the South Carolina General Assembly believe masks should be a personal choice made by parents.

“I don’t see the State of South Carolina doing it,” Bailey said. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday afternoon that it recommends masks for K-12 students when school resumes this fall. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people should return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the nation where COVID-19 is on the rise as more and more “breakthrough” cases are occurring in vaccinated people. 

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control currently recommends vaccines for children 12 years and older, but the state’s schools and districts have been banned by the South Carolina General Assembly from requiring them. 

In May, the South Carolina Department of Education rescinded the state’s face-covering policy, with Superintendent Molly Spearman stating that Gov. Henry McMaster had “no legal grounds” to let parent’s opt-out. The decision was later made by the General Assembly. 

Bailey said it’s been a “mixed bag” on what he’s heard from constituents about face coverings. He said that most parents he’s spoken to don’t want their child to be required to wear a mask to school.

“We could be in the long haul for this, and there is an impact either way you go, and that needs to be a decision made by the parents.

He said the surge in cases can be attributed to Fourth of July gatherings, and may level out soon. 

He said his stance hasn’t changed due to the CDC announcement.

“I am really as neutral as can be,” he said. “I see the impact on these children both ways, and it has got to be a decision — the parents have to make the decision on what is best for their child.”

DHEC created an opt-out mask near the end of the last academic year for parents to use after the governor’s announcement that they would no longer be required. Immediately after the form was created, about 25% of Horry County Schools students had one. The district also plans to remove its plexiglass barriers for the new school year. 

News13 reached out to Sen. Greg Hembree, Rep. Thomas “Case” Brittain, Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford and Rep. Tim McGinnis for comment on the CDC announcement, and did not hear back. 

McMaster responded to the guidance with a tweet, stating that “The Delta Variant poses a real threat to South Carolinians. However shutting out state down, closing schools and mandating masks is not the answer. Personal responsibility is.”

He wrote that “The vaccine works,” and encouraged South Carolinians to talk to their doctors and families about their options.

He reiterated that state law bans schools from mask mandates.

“The General Assembly agreed with me — and that decision is now left up to the parents,” he wrote.

Dillon, Horry and Marion counties have been downgraded into the “high” COVID-19 incidence rate category, as of information released by DHEC on Tuesday.

The three counties join Sumter County, which had been in the category for multiple days. Except for Marlboro and Saluda counties, the rest of the state remained in the “moderate” category.

The incidence rate is calculated using the number of new, confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to the state, per 100,00 people.

Last month, all but two of the state’s counties were categorized as having a “low” incidence rate. 

Dillon County’s rate was 213.3 new cases per 100,000 people, Horry County’s rate was 214.1, Marion County’s rate was 225.1 and Sumter County’s rate was 286.7. 

A “low” incidence rate is considered to be fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period, a “moderate” rate is between 51 and 200 cases, and a “high” rate is more than 200 cases. 

The downgrade came the same day that DHEC announced 827 new, confirmed cases statewide, 272 probable cases and one confirmed death. Of 9,856 new cases reported to the state, 10.6% were positive for the virus.

Horry County had the second-highest number of new cases reported Tuesday, with 84. It was beaten only by Richland County, which had one more case than Horry County. Horry County had topped the list multiple times over the last two weeks as the delta variant of the virus continues to spread. 

Tuesday’s update brings the state’s totals to 502,094 confirmed cases, 109,500 probable cases, 8.716 confirmed deaths and 1,167 probable COVID-19 caused deaths. 

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