COLUMBIA – Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered an immediate end to masked tenures in South Carolina, saying the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines means governments should stop dictating when and where people cover their faces.
The May 11 ordinance nullifies any local restrictions on COVID-19 related to its ongoing pandemic emergency declarations, at the very least requiring city and county governments to rewrite their own ordinances to keep them in place. square.
“With the COVID-19 vaccine readily available and the number of cases declining, I will not allow local governments to use the declaration of a state of emergency as a reason to implement or maintain mask warrants,” McMaster said.
“Everyone knows what we need to do to stay safe – including wearing a mask if you risk exposing others – but we need to move past the time when governments dictate when and where Southern Carolinians are required to wear. a mask, ”he continued.
“Maintaining the status quo ignores all the great progress we have made,” added the governor.
The move comes two weeks after McMaster warned local officials he would do “whatever it takes” to end government-mandated mask wear if they don’t act on their own. Several local governments have since extended their terms. At least six counties and dozens of cities still had one in place.
This includes Columbia City Council, which voted 6 to 1 moments before McMaster issued its order to extend the capital’s tenure until June 5, to match what Richland County Council had already done. .
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin agreed the city’s new ordinance was invalid as written. He doesn’t expect city leaders to draft a new one for approval. Instead, the focus will be on encouraging people to get vaccinated, he said.
Minutes later, Charleston City Council voted unanimously to turn his term as a mask into a recommendation, effective immediately. Her period was already due to expire in two days.
McMaster’s order seeks to end mask warrants in schools by directing the state’s public health agency to create a form that parents must sign to exempt their child from any face covering requirements.
“As every adult in our state has the opportunity to receive a vaccine, it goes against all logic to continue to force our children – especially our youngest children – to wear masks against their parents’ wishes,” he said. McMaster said. “Having a child wear a mask at school is a decision that should only be left to the parents of the student.”
But his order does not impose any deadline for sending this form.
It’s unclear if this could happen before the end of the school year or even be available in time for summer programs.
State Department of Education requires masks to be worn when entering a school, in hallways, when dropping off or picking up students and on school buses. The state agency leaves it up to teachers and district administrators to require masks to be worn in class or during outdoor activities.
These rules are based on guidelines from the State Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“If that in fact means DHEC is adjusting its public health guidelines to school districts, we will revoke our guidelines with immediate effect,” education agency spokesperson Ryan Brown said. “We are not public health experts, so we rely on public health experts.”
But that’s not happening, said DHEC director Edward Simmer.
DHEC will comply with McMaster’s order to create a parent waiver form. But even with the governor’s order, the agency is not changing its standing recommendation that everyone continue to wear a face mask, he said.
“All students, staff and others in schools should continue to wear masks until the end of the current school year,” Simmer said, highlighting federal guidelines on the pandemic.
Unlike other states, South Carolina has never had a statewide mask mandate, although McMaster encouraged local governments last year to pass their own ordinances. That encouragement officially ended when he lifted his mandate for face masks in state buildings on March 5, but local ordinances still cited his earlier statements.
As a preventative measure against “vaccine passports,” the McMaster order also prohibits local officials and government agencies from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of receiving government services or entering public property.
About 35 percent of South Carolinians aged 15 and over have completed their vaccination process, while 44 percent have received at least one vaccine. The supply of vaccines in the state exceeded demand for weeks and with many unfilled appointments providers have eliminated the need to register in advance.
Children under 16 have not been eligible for the vaccine but are expected to be soon. On May 10, the Food and Drug Administration cleared Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15.
Stephen fastenau contributed from Columbia.
To pursue Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.