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South Carolina Schools Take the Brunt for Increase in COVID19 Cases

In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations, with new cases approaching the peak levels of last winter. Classes, schools, and entire districts have gone virtual, leaving parents frustrated and teachers quitting weeks into the school year.

Since ending South Carolina’s state of emergency on June 7th Republican Governor Henry McMaster has maintained that parents alone should decide if children wear masks in schools, even as the state’s new cases soared from 150 a day on average to more than 5,000. The Republican-dominated Legislature added the provision that effectively stopped most school mask mandates despite guidance from their own state health and education officials, who have said the statewide mask ban in schools took away one of their best tools to stop the spread of COVID-19.

TAMPA, FL – JULY 27: Families protest any potential mask mandates before the Hillsborough County Schools Board meeting held at the district office on July 27, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors including students returning to school. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Now, teachers, students, and parents are struggling with the fallout as more young people contract the delta variant, forcing nearly two dozen schools and two entire districts — a number that shifts daily, usually upward — back to online learning within a month of returning in person.

Much of the conflict surrounds the mask rule. Though not an outright ban, the proviso prevents school districts from using state money to enforce a rule requiring masks. Nearly every person at a school has their salaries paid with some state money. Lawmakers stuck the proposal in the state budget two days after McMaster ended the state of emergency. The governor has at times suggested masks do little to protect from the virus or they cause developmental delays in younger children.

Although the state’s top health officials have put together presentations in the past few weeks to show that is wrong, the position persists with McMaster and a number of Republican lawmakers. But as conditions have become worse, some lawmakers from both parties are pushing for a special session to repeal the rule and allow local governments to make decisions based on their situations. The state Supreme Court also is considering a lawsuit over whether the mask provision is legal.

“We spiked the football too early. Instead of continuing to listen to medical professionals and interpreting the data, he has been guided by Republican Governors Association talking points,” Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston said of McMaster.

In the meantime, a few smaller districts have passed their own mask requirements.



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