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Governor, Columbia councilmembers say mask mandates not under consideration, focus remains on vaccinations

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 8:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said the decision of whether to wear a mask will continue to be a personal choice.

The CDC is now recommending even vaccinated people wear masks in areas with high transmission, which includes much of the Midlands, and some places in the US have recently been reintroducing mask mandates, including Savannah.

While cities and counties in South Carolina could put their own mandates in place, leaders in Columbia said that has not been discussed at this point, though it may be brought up in a meeting next Tuesday.

“At the present time, I’m not in favor of re-imposing the mask ordinance,” at-large Councilman Howard Duvall said. “I think that the people have moved on beyond the masks. I think that our focus should be on getting unvaccinated vaccinated.”

Both Duvall and District IV Councilman Daniel Rickenmann said they believe, if a mandate were put back into place, there would not be much adherence to it because so many people have not been wearing masks since Columbia stopped enforcing its previous mandate in May.

“I don’t think we’re at that stage yet that we need to,” Rickenmann said. “I think we really need to be pushing vaccination across the board. Everybody who’s 12 and above can get it, and there’s no excuse why people don’t have it.”

Duvall said anytime people are gathered together, there should be shots available.

“We have a Gamecock football game coming up on Sept. 4. You’ll have 100,000 people out there. We need to have vaccines sites available to them,” Duvall said. “We need to keep going door-to-door and going into neighborhoods, going to church groups.”

McMaster has encouraged South Carolinians to get vaccinated but will not be requiring them to do that, or to wear a mask either.

He said the state is sticking with its current approach, which is to give people information and access to the vaccine and let them make the decision for themselves of what to do with it.

“It’s an individual choice, but as information comes in about variants, about what’s happening in other states, all these sorts of things, it is a topic for discussion,” McMaster said. “But what we are doing as a state, we are not requiring anybody to do that, but we will give them all the information and make it available. Both the information and the vaccine are available to them, easily available to them.”

McMaster said he believes South Carolina has taken the correct approach to the virus, pointing to what he called “booming” business in the state as proof.

The governor characterized the restrictions that other states have taken in response to the pandemic as “more draconian methods.”

“They went too far,” he said. “I think we did it right and by doing it right, we will continue to do it right, and that is to be sure that all of our people have access to the vaccines as well as to all the information that’s available about the vaccines.”

When asked if he personally would be wearing a mask, in accordance with the latest guidance from the CDC, McMaster said he would not, as he has been vaccinated and has had COVID.

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