COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Tuesday morning, about 100 people protested at the South Carolina State House grounds calling for lawmakers to “fully” open up South Carolina.
The group wants Governor Henry McMaster to end his state of emergency regarding COVID-19 and for cities and counties across the state to remove any mask ordinances.
“We believe the coronavirus is real, but we believe the government way overreacted in their response to the virus,” rally organizer and President of United Patriots Alliance Pressley Stutts said.
Stutts believes lawmakers should make the economy a higher priority, and he doesn’t believe all of the data being released by DHEC is accurate.
“You know what? People die every day. They die of car accidents, they die of flu, they die of all types of other diseases, but I’m not putting the economy above anybody’s life. Everybody’s life is sacred, but we don’t know if all 3,000 of those lives that have been reported have actually died from COVID because we can’t trust the numbers,” Stutts said in reference to the nearly 3,000 lives DHEC says have died as a result of coronavirus.
Rep. Stewart Jones (R-District 14) also attended the rally and said about 10 other state lawmakers were also in attendance. Jones also doesn’t trust the information coming out of DHEC or the governor’s office.
Byran Symmes, the spokesperson for Gov. McMaster, said the governor believes wearing a mask is important at this time, but he supports the people’s rights to express concerns. Symmes added the governor is “very confident” in the legality of his state of emergency.
“The state of emergency allows the agencies to coordinate with one another that aren’t able to coordinate together at normal times. We still need those resources available to us,” Symmes said.
Regarding some reported issues with the daily numbers being released by DHEC, Symmes said DHEC has acknowledged there have been some issues with having labs report their negative cases and it is something DHEC is working to fix.
Protesters came from a variety of grassroots groups, according to Stutts, and carried signs reading, “Let mask freedom ring,” “Constitution not communism,” and “Faith > Fear.”
“I believe the science is not supporting masking mandated across the board for everyone,” said attendee Shannon Trisler.
Trisler supports wearing masks around people with preexisting conditions but does not believe it should be mandatory for all.
She said she wants “the right to make those medical choices for ourselves.”
Trisler brought her three sons to the event and said it was important to teach them to stand up for their rights. The sons said they feel like mask ordinances and restrictions on everyday life oppress them.
Stutts and attendees also questioned the science behind mask mandates. Jones and attendees also said the coronavirus can easily travel through cloth masks, which makes them unhelpful in slowing the spread.
Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, who has been tracking the virus' spread in South Carolina closely and testified in front of lawmakers over the summer, said she doesn’t know any physicians who believe masks don’t work.
“Yes, a certain number of particles may mistake, but it’s markedly lower than the number that would escape if you weren’t wearing a mask,” she said, “which would be all of the particles. So, decreasing this is good, and we know, we absolutely have evidence that places that have mandated masks have had a decrease in the evidence of COVID-19.”