S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster declared a new state of emergency Friday as state health officials announced the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases confirmed statewide in a single day.
Of the 1,273 new cases confirmed Friday, 11 are in Aiken County and three new cases are in Barnwell County. South Carolina has officially surpassed 30,000 coronavirus cases as of June 26. One death in an elderly victim from Greenville County was also reported.
Health facilities in Aiken County, including Aiken Regional Medical Centers and Rural Health Services, will be offering several free COVID-19 testing clinics to the community next month. More than 18% of the latest batch of test results for the state were positive for coronavirus, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
McMaster will not issue a statewide mandate requiring masks be worn at all times in public, referring to the measure as "impractical" because it is "not enforceable" on the state level during a press briefing Friday. Some S.C. cities have recently passed requirements for masks to be worn at all times while in public.
"For me to tell you everybody is required to wear a mask, and for me to not be able to enforce it, will give a false sense of security to those who believe everyone is following the rules," McMaster said.
However, McMaster strongly urged state residents to voluntarily wear masks, crediting such measures as one of the only ways the state's COVID-19 outbreak can be brought under control.
The governor also issued passionate warnings to the state's younger residents, who make up the majority of South Carolina's coronavirus cases.
"First thing I'd like to say ... particularly to young people is, this is a dangerous, deadly disease," McMaster said. "You've got to follow the rules. Wear your mask. Keep that distance from people. Wash your hands."
McMaster said his urgent message for caution is for "anybody from 40 (years old) on down" and was especially concerned about reports of younger people contracting coronavirus in large groups after taking trips to the state's beaches.
According to Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC's Director of Public Health, COVID-19 cases have increased by over 400% in adults aged 21-30 in South Carolina since April.
"We are aware of clusters of cases among teenagers and young adults ... including on trips to our beautiful beaches," said Duwve. "They didn't wear masks, and they didn't social distance."
Duwve also said South Carolina was making "national and international headlines" for its skyrocketing coronavirus cases. Six U.S. states – including New York, once the country's coronavirus epicenter – are requiring travelers who visited South Carolina to quarantine for two weeks.
Over 900 people are currently hospitalized across the state for coronavirus or are currently being investigated for coronavirus, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said Friday. Three out of every four hospital beds in the state are currently occupied.
McMaster said the state's hospital surge plan, which is meant to handle any potential overflow of patients should hospitals run out of space, is still active. Elective procedures may be canceled if hospitals continue to fill up.
The governor also announced that DHEC would be creating a plan to allow for visitations to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for seniors, who make up over 35% of the state's COVID-19 deaths. McMaster is hopeful this plan will improve mental health in such facilities where isolation has been taking a toll on some residents.
There are no plans to reopen venues that draw in large crowds, McMaster said Friday. This includes facilities such as nightclubs, performing arts centers, spectator sports and concert venues.
Free COVID-19 testing
The following coronavirus testing events will be provided to adults aged 18 or older with a valid S.C. state-issued ID. Testing is free. Patients do not need to have COVID-19 symptoms or health insurance to get tested. No referrals or appointments are needed. Testing is given on a first-come, first-served basis.
• July 9 — Aiken Regional Medical Centers in partnership with DHEC, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Belvedere First Baptist Church, 421 Edgefield Road, North Augusta.
• July 9 — Rural Health Services Inc., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at New Beginning Ministries, 317 Williston Road, Beech Island.
• July 23 — Aiken Regional Medical Centers in partnership with DHEC, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Citizens Park, 1060 Banks Mill Road SE, Aiken