Governor announces closure of all South Carolina public schools

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COLUMBIA (AP) — South Carolina's governor on Sunday announced temporary closures for schools across the state as more cases of the new coronavirus continue to emerge.

Speaking at a news conference, Gov. Henry McMaster announced that all K-12 schools, colleges, universities and technical schools would close beginning Monday and going through the end of March.

"We are going to get through this as we've gotten through other things, by remaining calm," McMaster said in the appearance at the state emergency management division.

Food centers and delivery options will be set up for students reliant on food provided in schools, as well as any others in need, State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said Sunday.

Spearman also said that 3,000 of the state's school buses would be equipped with Wi-Fi to serve as hotspots for students without internet access at home, since districts are looking to distance learning for several weeks. Other buses would be used to deliver instructional materials, she said.

Spearman also noted that she had requested a waiver for the state from federally required student assessments administered to the state's students during the spring.

"There's no need for our teachers and our students to have this anxiety of what's gong to happen on testing," Spearman said.

McMaster's closure decision applies to South Carolina's public schools, although some private educational institutions across the state have already announced cancellations of their own. Spearman said that private schools and daycares were urged to follow this guidance, although they were not required.

The governor also urged that public gatherings both indoors and outdoors be limited to 100 people or less.

On Friday, following President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency, McMaster declared a state of emergency in two counties where the virus has been the most severe in South Carolina. The governor closed schools in Kershaw and Lancaster counties, the only areas in the state at that time with evidence of community spread, meaning the source of the virus is unknown.

An executive order also suspended visitation at state and local correctional institutions in all of South Carolina's 46 counties and direct state health officials to restrict visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The governor also granted state agencies the ability to allow older or at-risk employees to work from home and has asked utility companies to not suspend or disconnect services for nonpayment.

On Sunday, state health officials said they were investigating nine additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 28. Three of the new cases were in Kershaw County, where much of South Carolina's outbreak had been concentrated. Three new cases came from Horry County, two in Anderson County and one in Greenville County.

Last week, the University of South Carolina - the state's largest university - canceled classes for its 35,000 students at its main Columbia campus and in Lancaster, Sumter, Aiken and Salkehatchie until March 22, extending this week's spring break and moving to virtual instruction when students return. Other schools, including South Carolina State University, Coastal Carolina University and Furman University, also canceled classed until March 22.

McMaster's latest move shows the escalating decision-making process as the outbreak continues. On Wednesday, he stressed that "schools should continue to remain open and provide instruction." Some Democratic state lawmakers have called on the governor to allow the activation of emergency resources to cover health needs and response efforts.

Also Sunday, McMaster announced that federal officials had approved the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston to begin processing COVID-19 tests by the end of this week. He also said he had requested that South Carolina's share of medical supplies like respirators be released from a federal storage reserve.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of victims recover.