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South Carolina officials recommend 'safer at home' 4th of July celebrations

According to DHEC, there has been a 966% increase in new COVID-19 cases for people age 11-20 and a 414% jump in new cases for people age 21-30.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Health officials in South Carolina encouraged people to stay safer at home this Fourth of July holiday weekend after major spikes in COVID-19 for people who participated in group gatherings without keeping a safe distance from others or wearing masks.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), young people are increasingly testing positive for coronavirus. The state has seen a 966% increase in reported cases of people age 11-20 and a 413% increase in people ages 21-30. As a result, they want people to celebrate Independence Day safely, at home, to help prevent further spread of the virus. 

DHEC said Tuesday the number of COVID-19 cases in South Carolina is the highest it's ever been, as are hospitalizations. As of Monday afternoon, there are 34,546 total cases with 1,032 people hospitalized. 

Governor Henry McMaster said last week that a mask mandate, similar to the one issued by North Carolina, is "impractical." McMaster did encourage South Carolinians to wear masks and "follow the rules" to help stop the spread of COVID-19. DHEC said Tuesday that while shopping for groceries or performing other essential tasks, people should wear a cloth face covering and maintain six feet of separation between themselves and other people, and immediately wash their hands with soap after getting home. Anyone who feels sick should stay home.

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The virus is rapidly spreading across the state, with some of the largest increases in our coastal communities,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC Public Health Director. “We’ve all given so much for so long, and we all want to be at our beautiful beaches, at our parks, our friends’ houses, our block parties and community events but I’m asking all of us to stay vigilant in the fight against this deadly virus. While we celebrate our country’s birthday, please help your communities, especially those who are at increased risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. If we all pledge to wear our face masks, stay six feet apart, and wash our hands often, together we will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. That’s how we 'Stay SC Strong.’”

RELATED: Track COVID-19: Carolinas outbreak map

Despite warning from DHEC, at least one Charlotte-area city has made the decision to continue with its Fourth of July fireworks show. In Tega Cay, the festivities include a parade and an-hour-long fireworks show at the golf course.

Parks and Recreation Manager Joey Blethen says the city council made the decision after much discussion.

“It’s not my decision to hold the events, that lies with city council,” Blethen says. “It’s my job to execute and help plan the event.”

Blethen says planning for the 4th of July is the most stressful and time-consuming event of the year, but this year’s unknowns have made it even more challenging.

“We could have 200 people or we could have 2,000,” he says. “There’s not a win in this situation no matter what you’re gonna make decisions that are gonna upset people.”

One of the people unhappy with the decision: the chief of police, who penned a letter to the council begging them to reconsider.

In the letter written earlier this month before the DHEC guidance, Police Chief Steve Parker highlighted the other municipalities that had chosen to cancel celebrations and expressed concern about the number of people who would opt to come to Tega Cay instead.

“We have serious concerns of large amounts of people coming in from everywhere to see the one show around,” Parker wrote, asking the council to call off the celebration this year.

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The city has come up with plans to restrict traffic and parking to try to limit the number of people on the peninsula. 

Blethen is encouraging people to enjoy the show from their homes, their cars, or from parking lots in the area if they don’t feel safe gathering in a large group.