South Carolina communities are fighting back against their stubborn Republican governor's refusal to protect them from the coronavirus.
The state has returned to near-record levels of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations this week, and the virus has killed 10,562 people since the pandemic began, but public health experts fear the worst is yet to come, reported The Daily Beast.
"The current surge is likely to get worse in the weeks ahead," said University of South Carolina epidemiologist Anthony Alberg. "With a surge like this, there is a lag period between when the cases develop, when the hospitalizations rise, and then when the deaths accumulate."
Yet Gov. Henry McMaster has been fighting efforts by local officials and public health experts to slow the spread of the virus since the beginning, refusing to issue a statewide mask mandate or close businesses, and his administration tried to stop Columbia and Charleston from imposing their own measures.
The governor eventually backed down, and he caught COVID-19 just before Christmas, but he issued a bunch of executive orders in May banning mask mandates by local governments and schools and prohibiting "vaccine passports."
At that time, the virus was on the wane before the arrival of the highly contagious delta variant, but cities, counties and school officials started defying McMaster's orders once case numbers exploded in South Carolina, as they have elsewhere this summer.
The University of South Carolina issued a mask mandate in late July, and the Columbia city council required school districts within city limits to require masks for students and staff, and Richland County, where Columbia is located, followed with the same mandate.
"I will admit that county council is not usually in the business of creating policies for schools," council member Allison Terracio told The Daily Beast. "However, in this case, we needed consistency across all schools in the county in regards to masking."
School boards for some of the state's largest districts also voted to require masks, and state education superintendent Molly Spearman asked the legislature to roll back its anti-mask budget measure, while U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote a letter backing her up.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation of South Carolina and other states that ban masks in schools, which federal authorities say could violate the civil rights of at-risk students.
The state's Supreme Court knocked down a professor's lawsuit against the University of South Carolina and kept the mask order in place, and the court will hear Republican challenges Tuesday to mandates from Columbia and Richland County.