SC’s top health official concerned about coronavirus now more than ever

SOUTH CAROLINA — The top South Carolina health official overseeing efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the state said she’s worried a lack of social distancing and adherence to other preventative measures are hampering efforts to fight the pandemic as infection numbers continue to rise.

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At Wednesday’s news conference with Gov. Henry McMaster, State epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said she’s more concerned about COVID-19 in South Carolina than she’s ever been before.

In the past two weeks, Bell said South Carolina has reported its highest new daily case counts since the pandemic began.

As of Wednesday, there were 528 new virus cases in the state bringing the total to 15,759. 575 people have died from COVID-19 in South Carolina, a number that has leaders concerned.

According to Bell, the first increase in trends was following Memorial Day and it was not unexpected.

She said residents should ask themselves what they can do to stop the spread of the virus. She said hard data is not needed to show that people are not social distancing or doing enough to slow the spread.

Bell also addressed testing. She said though an increase in testing does typically yield more positive results, the recent uptick is not due to testing but is a consequence of not social distancing and not wearing masks.

The governor said slowing the virus rests on the shoulders of the community and people need to be smart.

“There’s a lot of stupid floating around out there,” he said referring to the lack of social distancing and people not taking the virus seriously.

He said the state must be vigilant and residents should consider the people around them by adhering to guidelines.

“The ultimate price for this lack of care is death," he said.

Despite the rise in cases, McMaster said he has no intention of closing any more businesses or issuing restrictions.

“At this point, it’s individual responsibility, not mandates by the government,” McMaster said. “There are not enough police officers to go around the entire state and enforce mandates.”

Business owners Channel 9 spoke with on Wednesday said they’re taking precautions.

Jason Brantingham said The Brass Tap pub is following all the state’s guidelines like keeping tables 8 feet apart, only opening at 50% capacity and making sure employees wash their hands frequently.

“We’re keeping our employees safe, our customers safe," he said.

As far as stricter recommendations like temperature checks and masks, The Brass Tap and other restaurants said they’ve started to cut back.

“They’re optional but we have relaxed on them a little bit to be more accommodating to customers and employees,” Brantingham said.

He said the reason he’s not requiring masks is because of the heat. He explained it was tough for employees to breath while wearing a mask in hot temperatures.

The governor said the state can’t require people to wear masks, but he strongly encourages it.

He also said the state’s reopening council, Accelerate SC, has recommended to lawmakers that the federal government add $500 million to the unemployment insurance trust fund. The fund, which pays unemployment benefits to out-of-work South Carolinians, had $1.1 billion in it before the pandemic hit.

If the state continues down its current path, leaders believe the fund could be depleted, so help from the federal government would prevent that.

The governor said he’s also recommending $215 million go to reimburse public school districts to provide extra days of instruction or expand school hours to bring students up to full speed.

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