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'I am more concerned about COVID-19 in South Carolina than I have ever been before,' expert says

The state has seen near record levels of daily cases, and experts are asking people to wear masks and social distance.

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina's top infectious disease expert and Gov. Henry McMaster are saying they are very concerned that people aren't taking coronavirus precautions seriously, which appears to be causing a spike in cases. 

"Today I am more concerned about COVID-19 in South Carolina than I have ever been before," said Dr. Linda Bell, the state epidemiologist.

On Wednesday the state's health agency, DHEC, announced 528 new cases and 7 new deaths. That means the state has 15,759 total confirmed cases since the virus began and 575 deaths. Over the last two weeks, the state has reset the daily record for new cases several times.

RELATED: DHEC: 528 new virus cases, 7 new deaths in South Carolina

Bell said it's clear many in the state aren't sticking to the social distancing rules and aren't using masks. "I know we are eager to return to normal but it will take us that much longer if we don't adhere to these rules today," Bell said.

"It's disappointing to see people all jammed up in crowds...exposing others to risk," McMaster said. "The ultimate price in this lack of care is death."

The governor said he would not implement any rules or orders to require masks. McMaster said it's about personal responsibility. "This virus is with us," McMaster said. "It's not going to disappear..the hot weather is not going to kill it...and it's going to be here with us until a vaccine is created." 

McMaster also said there are limits on what the government can do to business which would harm companies, because shutting down is essentially taking a business' property. "I've got no intention of closing more businesses...shutting down is not the answer. If that were the case all the states that are still shut down would have almost no cases." 

He said social distancing is the key.

"In other words, be smart," McMaster said. "There's a lot of stupid floating out there."  

RELATED: Dr. Fauci says coronavirus turned 'out to be my worst nightmare'

RELATED: Lexington County named a coronavirus hot spot in South Carolina

The state's health agency, DHEC, along with the South Carolina Hospital Association, the South Carolina Medical Association, and the South Carolina Office of Rural Health issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for better use of face masks and social distancing. 

"There is rapidly growing medical evidence that the use of face masks along with social distancing can greatly reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus in public spaces and places where people at higher risk of severe illness and death from this virus are likely to be present," the statement read in part. "We must all commit to wearing face masks in public spaces — if we all wear them, we’ll all be protected."

More than 100 Mobile Testing Clinics Scheduled Statewide

DHEC is working with community partners to set up mobile testing clinics that bring testing to rural and underserved communities. Currently, there are 108 mobile testing events scheduled through July 2 with new testing events added regularly. Find a mobile testing clinic event near you at scdhec.gov/covid19mobileclinics.

Residents can also get tested at one of 169 permanent COVID-19 testing facilities across the state. Visit scdhec.gov/covid19testing for more information.

Ways to Stop the Virus' Spread:

  • Practicing social distancing
  • Wearing a mask in public
  • Avoiding group gatherings
  • Regularly washing your hands
  • Staying home if sick

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