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Governor McMaster, state health leaders urge public to mask up as virus cases surge

"Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time to redouble our efforts," said McMaster as cases surge in South Carolina.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Wednesday, Governor Henry McMaster and state health officials gave an update on South Carolina’s response to COVID-19. 

They warned that cases are the highest they’ve ever been, and things will get worse if the public doesn’t take action.

"Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time to redouble our efforts," said McMaster.

This was the Governor's first press conference in roughly three weeks. Since the public last heard from him, South Carolina’s status with the virus has taken a dark turn.

RELATED: SC governor says vaccine rollout will be slow, people don't need to let their guard down

"Last week we reported two of the highest days of cases since the pandemic first came to South Carolina," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell. South Carolina has had over 2,000 new coronavirus cases a day for almost a week.

"We have 1,100 statewide hospitalizations for the coronavirus. We have not seen this number since the summer," said Dr. Steve Shelton, Prisma Health Midlands' COVID-19 Incident Commander. "Prisma health has felt that impact ourselves, we currently have 225 positive patients within our healthcare system, that is close to our summer record high at this point."

As cases increase across the Midlands, both Sumter County and Orangeburg County School Districts have returned to 100% virtual. However, the Governor kept a firm stance on wanting schools to stay face-to-face.

RELATED: Sumter public schools move back to 100 percent virtual learning

"Parents should not have to choose between their child or their job. But that is what the decision of the school districts who have not gone back to five day face-to-face education are requiring these parents to do. And it's not the right thing to do," McMaster said.

As school districts grapple with virtual versus in-person, hope is on the horizon thanks to the vaccine. 

The first doses of the vaccine that are reserved for frontline healthcare workers are expected to arrive later this month. "It's estimated that our state’s first allotment will be between 200 and 300 thousand doses," said McMaster.

RELATED: Prisma Health expects to get COVID-19 vaccine soon

However, Dr. Bell warned it will be months before most people can get vaccinated. So, it’s important to wear masks and stay socially distant to save lives.

"If we were able to implement 95% use of masks within a week, by that time in April, we could actually avert 1,000 more deaths," said Bell. She also reminded the public to avoid large holiday gatherings and to stay home if sick.

The Governor made it clear he will not be imposing more restrictions or shutting the state down again in response to the spike in cases. However, he added that the 11PM cut off for alcohol sales is still in place across South Carolina.

To watch the full briefing, click here.

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