DHEC announced a plan to begin closing COVID-19 testing sites across South Carolina last week. Photos by Jacob Gamble.
The University of South Carolina announced on Monday that it will be relaxing its campus-wide mask mandate, citing low case numbers among students and faculty.
Masks will only be required in “instructional and research spaces, in medical facilities and on campus public transportation,” according to a university statement.
“We recognize the tremendous sacrifices each of you have made,” said Interim Provost Stephen Cutler and Interim Chief Health Officer Dr. Jason Stacy in a statement. “We believe this update to our policy allows each of us to exercise good judgement consistent with our individual personal health goals and supported by institutional policy.”
This move comes as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced a plan last week to begin closing COVID-19 testing sites and end daily case reports because of the availability of rapid at-home tests and a decrease in demand for testing.
“It’s jarring, you know, in a way we’ve gotten used to having that resource there,” said Jacqueline Fox, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies public health law. “But I can see a story where, certainly right now, it may be less necessary in some parts of the state.”
On Friday, DHEC reported 1,195 new cases and a percent positive rate of 9.2%. Since the start of the pandemic, the agency has reported 15.4 million test results and over 1.1 million positive cases.
At the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization recommended that the percent positive rate remain below 5% for two weeks before safety restrictions are lifted.
The percent positive rate in South Carolina peaked at 31% in January.
“I would say we are in a much better place than we were at the beginning of the semester,” Fox said.
DHEC’s decision to close testing sites and end daily reporting signals a shift in the public health response to COVID-19 as it becomes a permanent health crisis. It’s also a sign that the virus may be transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic, a disease or virus prevalent in a population.
“It feels like so many people are ready for it to be over. They’re kind of ready to accept it before it’s the truth,” said Fox.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Jacob Gamble is an aspiring political operative from Summerville, South Carolina. Deeply involved in politics, Gamble currently works for the South Carolina House Democratic Caucus as their press secretary and has previously worked for the White House, the Biden presidential campaign, and several other presidential and local campaigns. In his free time, Gamble watches movies and is currently writing a screenplay.
Sydney Pennington is an aspiring multimedia journalist with a passion for crime media. From Charleston, South Carolina, her favorite parts of the job are providing accurate information and connecting with people. At a young age, she developed an affinity for crime media with shows like Dateline and 48 hours. She is proficient in Adobe Creative Cloud and hopes to eventually work for a local police department as a communications liaison.