After a week of increasing COVID-19 cases and record-breaking hospitalizations, Gov. Henry McMaster urged South Carolina residents to wear a mask, but he did not issue any orders to force face masks on individuals.
At Friday’s press conference, McMaster said a state-wide mandate requiring residents to wear masks in public spaces Is “impractical” because “it is not enforceable.”
“This is a dangerous deadly disease,” McMaster said. “Follow the rules.”
Those rules include social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying home when sick. McMaster said South Carolina would only encourage, but not legally require, masks in public —unlike several other governors who issued mask mandates this week.
Within the last few days, several South Carolina municipalities have issued mask mandates including Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, Clemson, and Isle of Palms. McMaster said it’s easier for individual cities to enforce these kinds of mandates on a statewide level.
South Carolina was one of the first states to lift COVID-19 lockdowns and open businesses, beginning on May 4. The vast majority of businesses across South Carolina were able to re-open in May, with the exception of crowd-related businesses including concert halls, specatator sports, and night clubs.
McMaster said he had “no intention” of re-opening those businesses until cases start falling.
The COVID-19 crisis in South Carolina has taken an ugly turn within the last week. For instance, South Carolina reported more positive COVID-19 cases in the last 6 days (6,469) than it did in the entire month of May (5,888).
McMaster warned that the recent COVID-19 surge is affecting younger people more than any other age group.
“We’re hearing stories of young people who went to the beach and just about everybody in the group is infected,” McMaster said.
He said officials know of a lot of cases where young people who are not symptomatic are spreading the disease.
Young adults between the ages of 21-30 are now the most likely age group to get COVID-19 in South Carolina, after a surge in reported cases over the last few weeks. That age group accounts for 21 percent of the COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this week, McMaster addressed the pandemic in a press conference for the first time in more than two weeks.McMaster, along with South Carolina hospitality leaders, announced the South Carolina Palmetto Priority, COVID-19 initiative to improve safety in restaurants, which is essentially a sticker program moderated by government workers and customers.
The move was heavily criticized on social media, with several South Carolina residents calling the program juvenile and a waste of time and money.
At Friday’s press conference, McMaster urged restaurant owners to participate in the program.
Hospitalizations and Cases
For the eleventh consecutive day, South Carolina officials reported record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations.
On Friday, 906 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized across South Carolina, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). This is the highest number reported since the state began tracking the metric in early May. One month ago, 235 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 in South Carolina.
McMaster said Friday that the state will implement a plan to make space in the hospitals and possibly issue a mandate for hospitals to cancel elective surgeries if the situation worsens.
Between the Midlands, Pee Dee, Upstate, and Lowcountry regions, the Pee Dee has the highest hospital bed occupancy rate at 78 percent. Anderson County had the highest hospital bed occupancy rate on Friday at 94.7 percent, followed by Spartanburg County at 87.3 percent.
“As of this morning, 2,579 inpatient hospital beds are available and 7,885 are in use, which is a 75.35% statewide hospital bed utilization rate. Of the 7,885 inpatient beds currently used, 906 are occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19.,” SCDHEC officials said.
South Carolina officials said Friday that they are waiting for South Carolina to hit an 80-percent occupancy threshold before they start making room for more patients.
South Carolina is among a few states leading the nation in new cases per capita.
SCDHEC announced 1,273 new cases and 1 new death Friday as daily reported cases have been mostly ticking upward for the last few weeks — increasing at higher rates than most of the country.
The percentage of positive case per test has also been moving upward, another alarming sign that COVID-19 isn’t anywhere near contained in South Carolina.
On Friday, 18.1 percent of tests had positive results. This is yet another record-breaking number for COVID-19 in South Carolina.
The recent surge is not due to the state’s expanded testing. South Carolina still ranked 39th in the nation this week when it comes to coronavirus testing per capita, according to data from The Covid Tracking Project.
The only metric that hasn’t moved upwards has been the daily death count. We will be watching that closely as deaths typically lag behind hospitalizations and new cases.
So far this month, South Carolina has averaged about eight deaths per day, which is the same as May’s daily average, but up from April which averaged 6 deaths per day.
The recovery rate for those who have tested positive for coronavirus in South Carolina is 80 percent. Roughly 87 percent of cases so far in South Carolina have not required hospitalization.
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