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USC can't impose mask mandate for students, SC attorney general says

Wilson sent a letter Monday to UofSC Interim President Harris Pastides Monday where he outlined his views.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson says the University of South Carolina can't require masks for students and faculty, based on his understanding of rules passed by the legislature weeks ago. 

Wilson sent a letter Monday to UofSC Interim President Harris Pastides Monday where he outlined his views. He said he sent the letter after getting questions about the school's COVID-19 testing and masking guidelines. 

"Please confirm that the University will now not require campus-wide wearing of masks," Wilson told Pastides.

RELATED: All South Carolinians should wear masks indoors again, DHEC says

Last Friday, the school announced it would require masks in all campus buildings, regardless of vaccination status, with exceptions for inside dorm rooms, private offices, or while eating. That's in line the CDC's updated mask guidance, which essentially says people in areas of high transmission should wear masks in all indoor public places and school settings. "Gamecocks, I’m disappointed that these measures are necessary, as we hoped for different circumstances when we came back together," Interim President Harris Pastides said in a note.

The school also said they would be requiring testing for students returning to campus this month.  

RELATED: CDC document warns delta variant appears to be as contagious as chickenpox

However, Wilson said a proviso (numbered 117.190) passed in the state budget this summer seems to negate a mask mandate.  "A public institution of higher learning, including a technical college, may not use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution's facilities without being required to wear a facemask," the proviso reads. 

Wilson said while the proviso is "inartfully worded" it appears clear that the legislature's intent was to ban both vaccine and mask mandates. While Wilson doesn't make this point in his letter, the legislature also put in a proviso in that same budget that bans mask mandates in K-12 public schools. 

RELATED: More mask rules at USC following COVID surge in South Carolina

Wilson went on to say that the testing requirements are valid. 

Over the weekend Rep. Bill Taylor states he thought the mask mandate should be repealed and if it wasn't, the legislature would take further action when they meet in September. 

News19 has reached out to the university of a response to Wilson's letter.