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COLUMBIA - A South Carolina city voted Monday to require people to wear masks in grocery stores and pharmacies, becoming the first in the state mandating face coverings to fight COVID-19.
The Greenville City Council passed the rule unanimously hours after placing it on its regular agenda.
All employees in restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores and pharmacies will have to wear masks. Customers in grocery stores and pharmacies will need coverings over their noses and faces, but anyone who can't wear a mask because of age or underlying illness is excluded.
Anyone convicted of breaking the rule will be fined up to $25.
Greenville has had some of the highest COVID-19 rates in the state in recent weeks. Mayor Knox White said the city carefully chose to require masks in only businesses that everyone has to use, whether they are trying to isolate themselves or not.
"Anybody can choose or not choose to go to a certain retailer, like a dress shop or something. You really don't have a choice for groceries," White said.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster again said Monday that he isn't considering a statewide mask requirement because it might violate people's rights. He has emphasized making the right choice and wearing face coverings voluntarily to slow a rise in cases that has the state in the top five in the nation for new infections.
"It's time to take it very, very seriously. We've said that from the beginning. There is very little other than that we can do," McMaster said at a Monday media appearance. He wore a mask, which he rarely has in public before.
The rapid spike in COVID-19 cases in South Carolina continues, with more than 1,000 cases reported Monday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said. The state has seen at least 900 new cases each of the past five days. South Carolina had never had that many cases in a day before.
South Carolina set a record with 731 patients in the hospital with COVID-19, although the percentage of positive tests did dip below 13%, DHEC said.
"Who would ever imagine a few weeks ago we would be sitting at over 1,000 cases a day? We've got to change our ways," said state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, who held a news conference Monday to take questions about the statewide school reopening plan.
Students and teachers won't be required to have a COVID-19 test to go back to the classroom. But they will be asked about symptoms and exposure, Spearman said.
The state reopening report looked at three models - full in-person classroom teaching, full online teaching and a combination of the two. Which one gets used will depend on individual districts and the spread of the virus, Spearman said.
"Certainly, if the virus is running rampant, we're not going to sacrifice the safety of our children and our teachers just to say we're going to back to school," Spearman said. "We're going to do it safely. i want them there, everybody wants them there."
Social distancing rules will be in effect in classrooms and on buses, cutting the number of students that can be in both.
Parents who don't want to return their children to classrooms will also be accommodated, Spearman said.
Part of the new spike in COVID-19 cases appears to be recent protests over racial injustice. Lawrence Nathaniel of the group I Can't Breathe SC said in a Facebook post that more than a dozen people in the group recently tested positive for the virus.
Nathaniel said his group will cancel protests until they're able to work out a safe way of assembling. Other protesters should be careful about joining protests until they're sure they're not spreading the virus, he said.
Meanwhile, The Greenville News reported that Clemson officials are reporting an increase of the virus in wastewater in the community. City and Clemson University officials have started testing wastewater going into a treatment plant, the city announced Sunday.
The announcement came two days after Clemson University announced 23 football players had tested positive for the virus.
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