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SC Expert Says State Mask Rule Needed As COVID-19 Spreads


COLUMBIA, S.C. — More South Carolina cities are passing their own rules requiring masks as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in the state.

As Clemson and Charleston join Greenville and Columbia in requiring everyone to wear masks in grocery stores and pharmacies, the state's chief expert on infectious diseases said it might be time for a mask rule across South Carolina, something Gov. Henry McMaster has resisted.

State Epidemiologist Linda Bell said COVID-19 appears to be spreading too fast to wait for cities and counties to pass their own rules on face coverings.

“It would be much more effective if there was something that we could do statewide as quickly as possible to get a much more widespread adoption of masks,” Bell told reporters Wednesday.

South Carolina reported 1,106 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. Five of the past seven days have seen more than 1,000 new infections — the only days with more than 1,000 cases since the pandemic started in March,'

The state again set a record with 881 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The rate of positive tests jumped to a near record 16.9%, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.

The state death toll from the virus is now at 691 after eight additional deaths were reported. South Carolina is approaching 29,000 total cases, DHEC said.

McMaster has resisted a statewide rule requiring people to wear masks, saying he does not like to step on personal liberties and he thinks it would be tough for police to enforce the rules.

Most of the city requirements include a $25 fine. and are narrowly drawn to only require masks for everyone in grocery stores and pharmacies. They also require workers in all retails stores to wear face coverings.

There is some local resistance to mask laws. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey posted a video to the city's Facebook page urging residents to wear masks voluntarily.

"Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your friends and your co-workers," Summey said. "We do not want to regulate you having to wear a mask. It is common sense to wear a mask."

Meanwhile, the economic toll of COVID-19 continues. More than 17,000 unemployment claims were made in South Carolina for the week ending June 20, the state Department of Employment and Workforce said.

While that number was the lowest in the 14 weeks since COVID-19 started spreading in the state, the 17,000-plus claims are more than any week before the pandemic since the Great Recession in 2009.

Nearly 619,000 jobless claims have been made during the pandemic and the state has paid out $2.5 billion in unemployment benefits, the agency said.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP