The Latest: S.C. Schools Without Mask Mandates Get Virus Wave

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is setting records for COVID-19 hospitalizations, and new cases are approaching the peak levels of last winter.

Since ending South Carolina’s state of emergency on June 7, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has maintained that parents alone should decide if children wear masks in schools, even as the state’s new cases soared from 150 a day on average to more than 5,000.

Now teachers, students and parents are struggling with the fallout as more young people contract the delta variant, forcing nearly two dozen schools and two entire districts back to online learning within a month of returning in person.

State health and education officials say the statewide mask ban in schools took away one of their best tools to stop the spread of COVID-19. The state hit nearly 2,600 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in early September, a record.

“We spiked the football too early. Instead of continuing to listen to medical professionals and interpreting the data, he has been guided by Republican Governors Association talking points,” Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston said.

Some lawmakers from both parties are pushing for a special session to repeal the rule and allow local governments to make decisions. The state Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit over whether the mask provision is legal.