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SC gov lifts mask mandate for restaurants, state properties

March 5, 2021 GMT
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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, right, waves as he walks into the state House chamber for his State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, right, waves as he walks into the state House chamber for his State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina never had a comprehensive statewide mask mandate, but there were some specific ones in effect for government office buildings and restaurants.

That changed Friday, when Gov. Henry McMaster lifted those orders, leaving it up to state administrative officials and restaurant operators to develop their own guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order essentially reversed similar guidance from the governor issued in July, when McMaster made the face coverings a requirement that anyone entering a state office building, per guidelines developed by the Department of Administration. At that time, McMaster also issued a similar edict for restaurant-goers and employees.

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But, given South Carolina’s declining number of COVID-19 cases, as well as the rising number of residents who have been vaccinated against the virus, McMaster said it was time to begin loosening more mandates - while still maintaining his recommendation that all South Carolinians wear face coverings in public settings where social distancing isn’t an option.

The move is the latest in McMaster’s efforts to undo many of the restrictions instituted with the aim of curbing the pandemic. Last month, he lifted bans on late-night alcohol sales and gatherings of more than 250 people, encouraging people “to make responsible decisions” but saying in a statement that he believed “these targeted and limited safety measures are no longer necessary.”

At the time, state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell warned that if people perceive the virus as no longer a threat, they could stop following public health guidelines and drive cases up again.

“Every time we experience a downward trend, we have the tendency to go up again when we do not follow those preventative measures,” Bell told reporters last week.

In recent days, vaccination appointments opened up to include most South Carolina residents. As of Wednesday, nearly 706,000 people in South Carolina had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 366,000 had been fully vaccinated, according to state health officials.

The last priority phase, 1C, is estimated to begin in mid-April. That includes people 45 and older and essential workers. Officials estimate Phase 2, which includes everyone else 16 and up who hasn’t yet been vaccinated, to start in May.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.