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'Mandating masks is not the answer': McMaster urges vaccinations, opposes mask requirements

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said the state law is clear and that mask mandates should not be allowed in schools this year.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is urging everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but says mask mandates will not be allowed in schools this upcoming year. 

McMaster's comments came during a news conference Monday, where he said he felt the state has done a good job protecting the most vulnerable to COVID-19. The governor said South Carolina doesn't want a repeat of last year, where students were forced to learn remotely, with thousands of children falling behind. 

"Mandating masks is not the answer," McMaster said. "Personal responsibility is the answer, common sense is the answer, and we have an abundance of both in South Carolina."

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McMaster continued to push vaccinations but said closing the state's economy and schools is not an option. He also made it clear that it's a parent's right to decide if children wear masks in schools, saying state law is "crystal clear" that funds will not be used to enforce mask mandates. 

"By state law, we are not going to have mask mandates in the public schools," McMaster said. "We want to get the children back in the school and we don't want to get a repeat of what happened last year."

When asked if there's a threshold for requiring masks in schools, McMaster said the current data says they aren't necessary in schools. Last month, the CDC issued new guidance that recommends indoor masks for all teachers, staff and students at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status. 

"There's no magic number," McMaster said. "The thing to remember is we're dealing with a virus we know this year. We did not know it last year. The information right now is these masks are not necessary in schools."

South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recommends following CDC guidelines that includes everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in public outdoor settings in areas where a six-foot distance is not easily maintained; and for those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask indoors.

“South Carolina's economy must remain open, schools must remain open, parents cannot stay home with children all day," the governor said. "If parents want their children to wear masks, it is up to the parent.”

Masks in schools have become a major topic in the state lately after the city of Columbia voted last week to make them mandatory for elementary and middle school students. Columbia's mayor issued a state of emergency last week, ordering all kids from age 2 to 14 to wear masks at day care and in school. 

RELATED: SC lawmaker questions clarity, legality of mask proviso

RELATED: USC professor, attorney ask South Carolina Supreme Court to decide on masks at college

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