University of South Carolina mandates masks again as COVID-19 cases rise

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The University of South Carolina is requiring students to wear masks indoors this fall as the spread of COVID-19 has sped up across the state.

The mask requirement went into effect Friday. School officials cited new federal and state guidance recommending that even the vaccinated should return to wearing face coverings indoors in parts of the country where the highly contagious delta variant is rapidly spreading.

University leaders said that masks are again required inside campus buildings given Richland County’s high coronavirus transmission rate, though the school won’t mandate the face coverings outdoors, in private residence halls and offices, or for those eating inside campus dining facilities.

The school had loosened its mask mandate for vaccinated individuals earlier this year.

“Gamecocks, I’m disappointed that these measures are necessary, as we hoped for different circumstances when we came back together,” wrote interim President Harris Pastides in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

In the letter, Pastides also urged campus community members to get vaccinated.

Public colleges and universities in South Carolina can’t require students to get inoculated after lawmakers banned schools from making the vaccine a condition of enrollment.

Young adults already have the lowest vaccination rate across age groups in South Carolina. Only 20,320 vaccine recipients in the state were between the ages of 20 and 24, according to data updated last week by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. That accounts for about 1% of all 2.1 million vaccine recipients in the state.

Daily reported COVID-19 cases have reached levels not seen since February, with health officials tallying 1,392 new confirmed cases Friday. The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated, the state health department has said.

(Watch Below: CDC recommends vaccinated people wear masks in areas of ‘high transmission’)