South Carolina governor Henry McMaster has banned mask mandates and “vaccine passports” in the state in a new executive order
Though cases of COVID-19, along with deaths and hospitalizations, continue to decrease thanks to widening availability and access to vaccines for all Americans, the virus remains a global public health threat until everyone is able to be vaccinated. That isn’t stopping some states and local officials from acting in direct opposition to the safety of residents — South Carolina’s governor, Republican Henry McMaster, just signed a 15-page executive order allowing parents — not public school officials or school districts — to decide whether their child wears a mask or not in class, despite the fact that children under 12 are still not eligible to receive a COVID vaccine, and teenagers between 12 and 15 were just made eligible for the Pfizer vaccine this week.
After consulting with South Carolina’s Department of Education, McMaster ordered the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, to develop and distribute a standardized consent form that allows parents and legal guardians to effectively opt their child out of mask requirements or suggestions.
NPR reports that in a statement addressing the move, McMaster cited schools being “some of the safest places when it comes to COVID-19,” adding, “With every adult in our state having the opportunity to receive a vaccine, it goes against all logic to continue to force our children – especially our youngest children – to wear masks against their parents’ wishes.”
It’s not just schools impacted by the order – NPR reports that county or other local governments in the state are also explicitly prohibited from declaring a state of emergency to require masks, with McMaster calling the move “something something status quo something something.”
“Everybody knows what we need to do to stay safe – including wearing a mask if you’re at risk of exposing others – but we must move past the time of governments dictating when and where South Carolinians are required to wear a mask,” he said. “Maintaining the status quo ignores all of the great progress we’ve made.”
And while it seems like vaccine passports are going to be a widespread method for optimizing safety in public spaces in the coming months, McMaster is following Florida governor Ron DeSantis in banning “any local government, state agency, state employee, or any political subdivision of the state” from requiring residents to prove they’ve been vaccinated. McMaster called the prospect “un-American to its core,” even though immunization records have been required for certain jobs, travel abroad, or school registration long before the advent of COVID-19.
Though cases are trending downward in South Carolina, NPR points out that serious cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in young and middle-aged adults, a change in trend from adults over 65, who had previously been among the most susceptible to serious illness or hospitalization prior to vaccine availability. The worrying trend is what makes it so crucial for all adults – and children, when they become eligible – to receive their vaccines and continue practicing public health and safety measures whenever possible.