WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster had a strong message for young people in the state as COVID-19 cases continue to spike on Friday.
McMaster spoke alongside health officials from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia on Friday afternoon.
Dr. Joan Duwve, the Director of Public Health for DHEC, said South Carolina is now a hot spot in the United States. Several governors of other states have announced that visitors to their states from South Carolina must quarantine for 14 days.
“South Carolina is making national and international headlines -- but not in the way that we like,” Duwve said. “Our state’s numbers have drastically increased over the past few weeks, making us now one of the hot spots.”
Most of the spike is coming from young adults, she said. They are considering anyone under the age of 35 a young adult in this case, as that is the age group seeing the highest spike in cases right now.
From the moment the governor approached the podium Friday, he directly addressed young people.
“This is a dangerous, deadly disease,” McMaster said. “Follow the rules, wear that mask, keep your distance.”
He echoed health officials who have said young people can easily become infected by COVID-19, not experience symptoms and then pass the virus to others who are more at risk.
Duwve said group gatherings and trips are infecting young people at an alarming rate, which is then putting the rest of the community as risk.
Young people who do not wear masks or social distance are spreading the virus to others and contributing to the spike in cases, Duwve said.
She urged anyone who has visited a beach recently to get tested for COVID-19.
When asked if he would consider closing beaches again to try to stop the spread, the governor said he would not. He said local governments can make their own decisions, but he will not close any parts of the state he has reopened.
He reiterated he would not close any businesses -- restaurants and bars included -- to try to stop the spread.
The governor did say restrictions on entertainment venues would not be lifted until progress is made in the spread of the virus. Those businesses that remain closed include nightclubs, movie theaters, performing arts venues and sporting event venues.
“In the strongest most urgent terms -- keep that social distance,” McMaster said to young people. “Especially if it’s your parents, grandparents -- anyone older than you are. Be considerate.”
While the governor urged everyone to wear a mask and follow guidelines, he said he would not make a statewide requirement for the public to wear masks.
“It is impractical to have a mandate that everyone wear a mask,” McMaster said. “It’s not enforceable.”
However, he said cities do have the ability to make local requirements and enforce them.
Friday morning, the City of Columbia enacted a mask requirement for people inside commercial buildings.
Other towns in the Midlands are considering such ordinances.
McMaster did urge people to only visit restaurants with the Palmetto Priority seal, which means they are taking every health precaution recommended by DHEC to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The governor also said he is lifting some restrictions on nursing home visitation to allow immediate family members to visit patients. However, he said young people should not be allowed to visit nursing home patients.
“Not having people going into the nursing home of course has reduced the spread, we believe but it has also increased the feeling of isolation, emotional strain and other problems,” McMaster said.
McMaster also said the state has developed and is working under a hospital surge plan. As of Friday, more than 900 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 or are under observation for possibly having the virus.
DHEC reported more than 75% of hospital beds in the state are in use as of Friday.
“We have the highest numbers of individuals who are hospitalized because of complications from COVID-19,” Duwve said of the current situation.
The governor said officials have a contingency plan to treat people if hospitals become overwhelmed.
He said he may have to postpone elective surgeries again to keep hospital capacity up in the state, but he did not make that move Friday.
McMaster also mentioned schools during Friday’s news conference. He said plans are moving forward to reopen schools in South Carolina and that the recent spike in cases is not going to affect those plans.
The governor renewed the state of emergency due to COVID-19 on Friday, as well. This new order will last for 15 days.
It’s the eighth consecutive state of emergency McMaster has ordered due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The order allows state officials to “take additional proactive action and implement further extraordinary measures to respond to the evolving public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic…”
Among its measures, the order gives law enforcement the ability to disband groups of three or more people if they believe the group poses a threat to public health.
It also upholds the suspension of visitation for inmates at state correctional facilities, prohibits price gouging, and orders that public schools remain closed.
The order also issues protective measures for first responders and suspends rules and regulations for commercial drivers.