Anyone inside public areas of Charleston County government buildings will be required to wear face coverings beginning next week, as COVID-19 cases around the state continue rising.
The county announced the new mask requirement for its buildings on Friday, a day after South Carolina recorded its highest number of new coronavirus infections since February.
The requirement to wear masks in county buildings will apply to everyone, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status, beginning Monday, Aug. 2.
“The only way to stop the spread of this vicious disease is to get vaccinated. I strongly encourage all residents to get the vaccine,” Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said in a news release Friday. “Not only are you protecting yourself from dying or getting sick, but you are also protecting your family members and other compromised individuals.”
Charleston County may be the first, and certainly the largest, South Carolina county to reinstate an indoor mask requirement on its properties after local governments across the state relaxed their COVID-19 precautions earlier this year, as vaccines became widely available and the spread of infections declined.
But as vaccination rates have stagnated and the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant has become more prevalent, coronavirus case numbers have risen rapidly in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recorded 1,200 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 667 probable cases of the disease, the state’s highest daily count in months. All but two South Carolina counties were experiencing “high” or “substantial” rates of virus spread as of this week, according to federal data.
Given the increasing spread of the virus across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, now recommend that everyone — whether vaccinated or unvaccinated — wear face masks in public indoor settings, including in schools.
So far, no South Carolina cities or counties have reinstated sweeping face mask mandates like last summer, at the initial height of the pandemic.
In fact, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this year took steps to make it difficult for local governments to issue their own mandates. In May, McMaster signed an order invalidating any local government mask mandates that were predicated on a statewide COVID-19 state of emergency. However, it’s not clear whether local governments could instate such a mandate under a different authority.
Unlike some states, South Carolina never created a statewide mask mandate to combat the spread of COVID-19 last year. McMaster said he wouldn’t make a mask order because he believed it could not be enforced.