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McMaster doubles down against school mask mandates

Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 7:50 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Gov. Henry McMaster spoke Monday morning on South Carolina’s response to COVID-19.

A news conference took place at the South Carolina State House in Columbia in the first-floor lobby starting at 9:30 a.m.

Among the highlights:

  • McMaster urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying now is a good time to do it. He said the statistics show that despite “breakthrough” cases, the statistics whos that those are vaccinated are “in a much better place.”
  • He didn’t change his stance against allowing school districts to impose mask mandates for students. He cited a belief that it’s difficult to communicate to young children from behind a mask where they can’t see the speaker’s face.
  • He said mask mandates and economic shutdowns are not the answer to battling the coronavirus but common sense and personal responsibility are.
  • He said the current surge in COVID-19 isn’t at the point of the previous surges and that we now know more about the virus and how to deal with it. He said previous and more stringent measures were based on the best information available at the time.

“The new variant the Delta there it does pose a real threat. We know that it spreads more easily,” McMaster said. “But shutting our state down, closing schools and masking children who have no choice -- for the government to mask children who have no choice to protect adults who do have a choice is the wrong thing to do. And we’re not going to do it.”

He acknowledged the increase in COVID-19 cases blamed largely on the delta variant, which researchers have said is more contagious than the original strain.

“If you listen to some of the national press and some of even, some of the national experts, who I believe are exaggerating engaging in hyperbole and unnecessarily alarming people you’ve may think otherwise,” McMaster said. But he said the facts show the state is in “a different situation” from this time last year.

He said masks in the classroom make it difficult for teachers and students to communicate with one another because they cannot see each others’ faces. At one point, he used his difficulty in hearing a reporter’s question as an example of the challenges masks in the classroom could cause.

“That’s the problem. I can barely hear you,” he told the reporter. “Imagine if everybody in schools were masked. That’s the problem. That’s one of the problems. And you’re hollering.”

McMaster, who tested positive for COVID-19 in December, said he got vaccinated and urged others to do so, as well.

“I’ve been vaccinated. I believe that it works. Studies show that all of the vaccines, all three are highly effective against COVID and the new variant,” he said.

He said now is a great time to get the vaccine as schools gear up to begin the new school year.

McMaster told reporters the current numbers on the pandemic are down from what they had been and said the numbers last year did not reach the level of the “worst-case scenario” for which the state prepared.

“That’s because we handled it well and we will do it again this time,” he said.

He compared a mask mandate to having commuters park their cars.

“If everybody parked their cars, we’d probably have a whole lot fewer accidents on the road than we do, because people are driving, but we have to drive and commerce has to go on,” he said. “We have to go to school, children have to learn, and if it is not necessary for the government to require to mandate that they wear a mask over the opposition of the parents and we’re simply not going to do that, that is not the government’s role.”

This conference follows the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Controls’ announcement that 92% of the cases they have sampled have tested positive for the delta variant of COVID-19.

McMaster said Friday state law is “very clear” about mask mandates. A state budget proviso prohibits South Carolina educational institutions from using appropriated funds to mandate masks.

From reports by WRDW/WAGT and WCSC