COVID-19 state of emergency ‘no longer necessary,’ Gov. McMaster says

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 7:45 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s state of emergency issued more than a year ago in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Gov. Henry McMaster Monday announced the end of the state of emergency order he issued on March 13, 2020, praising South Carolina’s response during a news conference at the Emergency Management Division headquarters in West Columbia.

“I’m very proud and thankful for the way that the people of South Carolina responded to the virus,” he said. “I think the plan that we developed very carefully and methodically was the right plan, there are other states it took different causes, I think that ours worked better.”

He cited the task force, AccelerateSC, which brought together a variety of leaders and industry experts, to devise strategies to navigate the pandemic. He said he issued a total of 30 executive orders in a 451-day period since the pandemic began. But, he said, he did not plan to issue a 31st.

“It is no longer necessary to have a state of emergency, although it is still necessary for us to be smart, to follow the rules, to follow the guidelines and be very careful as we continue to pull out of the virus and its effects,” McMaster said.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Dr. Edward Simmer said he agreed it was time to end the state of emergency.

“I think if you look at the numbers we are making great progress in South Carolina,” he said. “The number of cases is down the number of patients hospitalized is down very significantly from January when we were at around 1200 patients in the hospital in South Carolina due to COVID, We’re now down around 200.”

Simmer said the number of deaths is also dropping, another sign the state is making progress. But he was quick to add there was still work to be done.

Since the pandemic began, DHEC has reported a total of 492,356 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8,594 deaths attributed to the disease.

South Carolina has performed nearly 8 million COVID-19 tests since mid-March 2020.

SCEMD Director Kim Stenson said ending the state of emergency would not place federal funding for South Carolina in jeopardy.

McMaster lifted a mandatory face covering order for restaurants and state government offices on March 5 of this year after the majority of South Carolinians became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nationally, 63.5% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But that figure drops to 41.5% when you narrow the data to adults in South Carolina only.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 34.8% of adults in South Carolina are considered fully vaccinated. One is said to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after receiving the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

McMaster reiterated that state leaders should not force anyone who has doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines to take the doses.

“Our purpose and our obligation is to make sure the facts are known, that the vaccines are available -- are easily available, readily available,” he said. “Ours is not to coerce or to force, but to make it available and let the people of South Carolina make up their minds what they want to do.”

McMaster said South Carolinians will see no change with the ending of the state of emergency.

“Not renewing the state of emergency declaration, which is a two-week by two-week process, they will see no change, because the work has been done to prepare us for this moment,” he said. “As Dr. Simmer said, the effort will continue but not the state of emergency.”

He again praised the state’s “team approach” to responding the pandemic, saying the state’s experience in handling hurricanes gave South Carolina an advantage when it came to cooperation and collaboration.

Last month, one of the state’s top Democratic lawmakers called for a program similar to one in Ohio that would offer prizes to people who get vaccinated against COVID-19. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, suggested using some of the state’s COVID-19 relief money to offer $1 million prizes to those who are vaccinated.

But McMaster said such an incentive program is unnecessary.

“South Carolinians have been given all available information about the vaccine and that is all they need in order to make this decision,” McMaster’s spokesman, Brian Symmes said.

Symmes said the governor believes enticing people to take the vaccine “with the lure of a lottery jackpot is irresponsible and a poor use of taxpayer dollars.”

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