South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on Monday urged state residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but rejected calls for mask mandates in schools or additional coronavirus restrictions on businesses.
"The new variant, the Delta there, it does pose a real threat. We know that it spreads more easily," McMaster said at a press conference. "But shutting our state down, closing schools, and masking children who have no choice — for the government to mask children who have no choice to protect adults who do have a choice is the wrong thing to do. And we're not going to do it."
The Republican governor's press conference followed a report released by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Controls Friday that showed a spike in COVID-19 cases. The department reported 2,535 new confirmed cases and 701 probable cases in South Carolina as of Aug. 4. It was the highest number of reported cases in once day since Feb. 12, when 3,458 cases were reported, according to WIS-TV.
McMaster said the spike in cases was caused by the Delta variant of coronavirus, which is more contagious than other virus variants and is capable of causing breakthrough infections in people who've been vaccinated.
Though mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that data shows the vaccines may be less effective against confirmed infection and symptomatic disease caused by the Delta variant.
The CDC also says "the risk for SARS-CoV-2 breakthrough infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus."
McMaster urged South Carolinians who have not been vaccinated to hurry and get shots.
"I've been vaccinated. I've believed that it works. Studies show that all of the vaccines, all three are highly effective against COVID and the new variant," McMaster said.
The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high and all teachers, staff, students, and visitors in K-12 schools wear masks indoors to prevent viral transmission.
But McMaster said masking children in schools would interfere with their ability to learn. While they might keep some kids safe, the governor acknowledged, "so would keeping them home. So would keeping them in their bedroom and not sending them to school at all, but that's not necessary and there are negative consequences."
The governor emphasized to reporters that state law is "very clear" about mask mandates. A proviso of the state budget enacted by the legislature prohibits South Carolina educational institutions from using state funds to mandate masks.