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South Carolina, Ohio governors say they will not reintroduce public health mandates

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster speaks during the Silver Elephant Gala at the Columbia Convention Center, Friday, July 30, 2021  in Columbia, S.C.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster speaks during the Silver Elephant Gala at the Columbia Convention Center, Friday, July 30, 2021 in Columbia, S.C.Tracy Glantz/Associated Press

The governors of South Carolina and Ohio both said Sunday that they would not renew public health mandates like mask-wearing and social distancing, even as their states continued to battle a raging pandemic.

Earlier in the pandemic, both states had required similar mandates, including declaring a state of emergency.

“I really think we have got to stay calm,” Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have put the fire out — it’s smoldering in places and could come back up — but the house is not on fire again.”

In recent weeks, coronavirus cases have risen rapidly across the country, enabled by lagging vaccination rates and the presence of the highly contagious delta variant. Despite a vaccination push from the Biden administration, public health protocols remain a state-by-state decision.

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In South Carolina, coronavirus cases increased by 258% in the past 14 days, and hospitalization and death rates also rose, according to The New York Times database. McMaster downplayed those numbers.

“I think there’s some exaggeration going on, some hyperbole, of those figures,” he said, adding that the state’s increasing cases “were not nearly as high as they were last July.”

Only 41% of South Carolina residents are fully vaccinated, according to the database; that figure is below the national average of 49.4%. On Sunday, McMaster maintained that getting vaccinated remained a personal decision, and that the state would not reintroduce a mask mandate.

“We are not going to have a statewide mask mandate, like they have in some other places,” McMaster said. “We are not going to require people to get vaccinated.”

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio offered similar remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Just 46% of state residents are fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker, and the number of cases has risen 177% in the past two weeks, with a 30% increase in hospitalizations.

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While conceding that his state had “room to grow” in increasing its vaccination rate, DeWine said he had no plans to reintroduce mandates. Asked about capacity restrictions or social distancing requirements, DeWine deflected: “The whole game today is vaccinations.”