COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As South Carolina approaches a holiday weekend often an anchor for its typically booming tourism industry, and the state's numbers of positive coronavirus tests continue to rise, public health officials are encouraging people to just stay home.
Dr. Joan Duwve, public health director for the Department of Health and Environmental Control, said Tuesday that some of the largest increases in virus cases were popping up along South Carolina’s coastline, the heart of its multibillion-dollar annual tourism industry.
“We’ve all given so much for so long, and we all want to be at our beautiful beaches, at our parks, our friends’ houses, our block parties and community events, but I’m asking all of us to stay vigilant in the fight against this deadly virus," Duwve said in a release.
Instead of taking part in traditional July 4 events as they perhaps typically would, DHEC recommended that people across South Carolina “instead celebrate the Fourth of July by planning home-based festivities and watching fireworks shows while remaining in their vehicles or tuning into celebrations virtually.”
The plea comes as the daily increase of South Carolina's positive test figures has accelerated, with many attractions and other businesses reopening across the state. As of Tuesday, health officials said the state had set a new daily record, with 1,741 confirmed cases since the day before. That brings the state's total confirmed cases to more than 36,000 since the pandemic began, and 735 total deaths.
Officials said 1,021 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Duwve and others have pleaded with the state's residents to wear masks when in public or group settings. On Tuesday, health officials said rising numbers of South Carolina's positive test figures had come from people who had taken part “in group gatherings without keeping a safe distance from others or wearing masks.”
Health officials have also issued specific warnings for South Carolinians under age 30. Since April 4, data shows a more than 400% increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases in people ages 21 to 30, and more than a more than 960% increase in people ages 11 to 20.
At least a dozen South Carolina municipalities have begun implementing requirements that people wear masks in many public spaces. They include Beaufort, Columbia, Charleston, Clemson, Greenville, Hanahan, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island and Newberry County.
Mount Pleasant will require masks in grocery stores and pharmacies — a common requirement — starting Wednesday. Folly Beach and Hilton Head Island approved a mask ordinance for all commercial spaces on Monday.
Gov. Henry McMaster has said he won’t order masks worn statewide, noting he does not like to step on personal liberties and thinks it would be tough for police to enforce the rules. Alongside those comments, though, he has encouraged residents to follow experts' recommendations.
“This is a dang deadly disease,” McMaster warned residents Friday. “You have to follow the rules and wear your mask.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP