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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

SC Virus Chief 'More Concerned' About COVID-19 Now Than Ever

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SCDHEC

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The top South Carolina health official overseeing efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the state said Wednesday that 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.

“Today I am more concerned about COVID-19 in South Carolina than I have ever been before," state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said during a news conference. “We are all eager to return to our normal lives ... but it will take us that much longer to get there if we don’t stop the virus today.”

In the past two weeks, Bell said that South Carolina had posted its highest new daily case counts since the beginning of the pandemic. On Wednesday, Bell noted 528 new positive tests had been posted, for a total of 15,759 in the state.

Thus far, she said, 575 people in the state have died.

Among her concerns, Bell noted a widespread lack of mask-wearing and social distancing, as some South Carolinians relax their attitudes toward restrictions surrounding the outbreak, now ongoing for months. She also cited a lack of self-isolation in new hotspot areas like Greenville, where some infected people have spread the virus to other members of their households.

Nearly a third of cases in that area, Bell said, were among Greenville's Latino population, a circumstance that had prompted state health officials to step up Spanish-language materials about the virus and prevention efforts.

“This is why we need everyone’s help in reemphasizing how critical it is,” Bell said. “There should be no mistake that COVID-19 transmission is still high and widespread in South Carolina at this time.”

Also at Wednesday's briefing, Gov. Henry McMaster called it “disappointing” to see people gathering in larger numbers as the state's weather warms up, stressing that people should follow recommendations when in public spaces as the outbreak continues.

“The ultimate price for this lack of care is death,” McMaster said.

Asked why not require people to wear masks or gloves, McMaster - a former state and federal prosecutor - urged personal responsibility, emphasizing his belief that businesses be allowed to operate as normally as possible, so as to not further squeeze the state’s weakened economy, and saying constitutional freedoms prohibit policies like mask requirements.

“We cannot keep businesses closed forever," McMaster said, also detailing recommendations from his reopening task force, which recently wrapped up its efforts. “Even in this situation, when we are still faced with a deadly virus, we must accelerate our economy."

McMaster, one of the last governors in the country to issue a statewide stay-at-home order and among its first to begin reopening the state's economy, said Wednesday that he did not anticipate further business shutdowns.

“I’ve got no intention of closing any more businesses," McMaster said, urging people to socially distance and be personally responsible. "Be smart. There’s a lot of stupid floating around out there.”

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