Read: Reporters’ Q&A with Gov. McMaster on SC’s COVID-19 response
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After speaking at the groundbreaking for the Riverbanks Zoo’s future Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center, Gov. McMaster took questions from members of the press on South Carolina’s response to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the state.
The below transcriptions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Reporter: How concerned are you at this point about the rise in pediatric cases? The number of children hospitalized and on ventilators around the state?
Governor: We are all concerned about that and we confer with DHEC and others regularly as late as this morning at 8:30. We want to be sure people are aware of what’s going on and what the status of this terrible virus and what can be done about it. And the main thing that everyone agrees with is that vaccination is the best answer and that vaccine is free. It’s all over the state.
Reporter: Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine or monoclonal antibody treatment. They are currently on ventilators right now. We had a high of 11 on ventilators last week [and] eight in recent days across South Carolina. They can’t get the vaccine. Their parents can be vaccinated and they can still end up...
Governor: Well, of course, everyone needs to get vaccinated unless they have some objection to it, which of course some people do. But we know that vaccination is the best thing we can do to stop the spread, and also remember all the other things as well. One is spend as much time outside as you can. We need ventilation in the schools, places with close quarters, you have masks, you have hand washing, all of those things, the distancing. We know it is highly contagious and what we are doing is to see that all the vaccinations that people want to have are available. We have not run out.
Reporter: South Carolina ranks 41 as of yesterday for vaccination rates. What needs to be done to get these numbers up?
Governor: Well, all we can do about that is to get the information to people. Tell them what works and what doesn’t work. And let them make the best decision for their own families and their own lives. Peggy and I have been vaccinated, our children have been vaccinated, and we know that’s the right thing to do.
Reporter: Governor, you made it quite clear last night in Cayce that mandates are not something that’s in your vocabulary. You mentioned there may be legal remedies that the state can take as the Biden administration rolls out these requirements. Can you talk a little bit about what those might be?
Governor: I don’t believe there is the constitutional authority for the President or the Administration to require people to get a vaccination. I think that would be an unprecedented use of the law. And we haven’t seen the details. We don’t know what rules are going to be promulgated or even when they are going to be sent out. But, I think there will be constitutional challenges all over the country to that. The states can do one thing. The federal government that’s different. There are limits to the federal government’s authority that doesn’t exist in the state law. So the question isn’t,” can there be a mandate or requirement for the vaccine?” But the larger question in this context is, “who can require it?” Legal scholars say there is no authority for the national government, the federal government, to make that requirement.
Reporter: Governor, can you say what you’ve done to help curb this most recent spike in cases?
Governor: Where have you been since last year? We have been working many times around the clock. The people at DHEC are just worn out. They are doing a magnificent job. For a while, we having conferences and sessions every day. And the main thing we had done is we built up a system of communication and logistics to see that all the...it started with the hospitals and the vaccination places...to where they were all open. Remember all the pharmacies weren’t open at first and did not have the vaccination.
Reporter: Can you elaborate on your tweet about fighting Biden to the gates of hell?
Governor: Yes, many scholars around the country believe in their reading of the Constitution that the federal government has no authority, the federal government has no authority to require a citizen to get a vaccination. I don’t know if in our history if you go back and read the cases, there are cases where the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state rules. The question is what authority is there for the federal government to issue mandates. So far we haven’t seen them. We don’t know what they will look like or how they will plan to implement them. There are some things the federal government is supposed to do. There are many things the federal government isn’t equipped to do that the states are equipped to do.
Reporter: Public schools are able to require everything from dress codes to shirts with specific political slogans not being worn, to other things that relate to the health of students. What makes a mask different?
Governor: Well a number of things. One thing is we have a state law in South Carolina that reflects through the General Assembly the will of the people. And that is that a child will not be required to wear a mask, over the objection and without the consent of the parents. That is a parental decision. I think that’s the beginning of the approach to that. That doesn’t mean people can’t wear masks and there are a lot of children going to school...I presume of all ages that are all wearing masks. The younger you get the more trouble it presents in the minds of many of our parents that’s why our legislature passed that law.
Reporter: The House GOP Caucus is meeting later this month to discuss President Biden’s vaccine mandate what are the options they are looking into?
Governor: Well that was a question asked a moment ago. Of course, we have not seen, to my knowledge, as of this morning how that mandate will be enforced, how it will be issued, what the limits to it are... The press has suggested or the administration has suggested it will be through the Occupational Safety and Health Act, well that is an interesting way to attempt to do this. But again the federal government telling a citizen, I look at it as the President telling a citizen, that you must get a vaccination of a particular kind at a particular time is something that is I think unique in our history and it’s because of the Constitution as I understand it.
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