May 20, 2020

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 20

Henry McMaster South Carolina May 20
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsSouth Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 20

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster held a coronavirus press conference on May 20. McMaster lifted restrictions on public attractions and youth & adult sports.


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Henry McMaster: (00:01)
And here signing today is Holly May. We appreciate you being here again. This is to bring you up to date. In short order I’ll be signing another executive order that involves some of the areas of recreation and the other activities that have been going on, particularly in the athletic and entertainment areas, as you know, that were covered in the early executive orders and either closed or restricted. And there are a few of those areas that are remaining closed or restricted, but these are the ones that we will be lifting the restrictions on in the next executive order. And these are found, if you happen to have a copy of that executive order, these are found in section two. The recreational facilities activities of fields, athletic activities. And they were section E, F and G.

Henry McMaster: (01:15)
We’re opening them as follows: Section E was sports that involve interaction in close proximity to, and within less than six feet of another person, section F is activities that require the use of shared sporting apparatus and equipment, and G, activities on commercial or public playground equipment.

Henry McMaster: (01:36)
Now in the executive order, it will have some detail to explain those a little bit and add some example. So among those categories of E, F and G which are recreational activities and athletic activities are such things as outdoor youth and adult sports and recreational activities. And they are posted on gov’s website. Example of those include but are not limited to such things as American Legion, Little League, Dixie Youth, travel team baseball, youth and adult softball, kickball, soccer, lacrosse, and flag football. That lifting of those will take place at 12:01 AM on Saturday, May the 30th.

Henry McMaster: (02:28)
Now, for those that have organized activities like that, of course they can start practicing then, but we want to hold off on competitive play in those things until June the 15th. And those are the recommendations that have been vetted by our team, notably Accelerate SC, and they will be in the executive order. Now, not in the order, but one thing that we never restricted, but we are issuing some guidelines, there’ll be on the website, but they will not be in the order, are day camps. And those are such things as the YMCA day camps, the Cacation Bible Schools, church day camps, athletic day camps, educational day camps and scouting activities, but not overnight scouting activities, but other activities. We’re not opening them, but we are putting together guidelines. It will be available soon.

Henry McMaster: (03:33)
Also, doing the following for entertainment venues and facilities, which we refer to generally as attractions, we are opening these. Section C was arcades, section F are tourist attractions. And that includes museums, aquariums and planetariums. Section H in the order: Indoor children’s play areas with the exception of licensed childcare facilities. J, bingo halls open and K, venues operated by social clubs. The examples of these types of attractions, tourist attractions generally, include large attractions, such as the South Carolina Aquarium, Patriot’s Point, the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden and State Museum, and also smaller attractions include go-kart tracks, miniature golf courses, arcades, laser tag mazes and escape rooms, zip lines, single car amusement rides, such as bumper cars, slingshots, reverse bungee rides, Ferris wheels, carousels, swing rides, climbing walls, batting cages, pony rides, billiard parlors in pool halls, ice skating rinks, roller skating rinks, outdoor/indoor paintball fields, rope courses, and skate parks and also Ferris wheels. But again, the Accelerate SC will have all the recommended guidelines will be posted on the website. And these facilities that I’ve just mentioned may return to operations on Friday, May the 22nd, 2020. Okay. With that, Dr. Bell,

Dr. Linda Bell: (05:43)
Thank you, governor. Good afternoon. DHEC has developed a statewide testing program to gain a better understanding of how COVID-19 infection is among all South Carolinians. And as of yesterday afternoon, a total of 138,238 tests have been performed in South Carolina covering approximately 2.7% of our population. And of those tests, 9,175 have been positive for an approximate 7% positivity rate of test performed.

Dr. Linda Bell: (06:23)
In order to begin the safe transition back to a less restrictive day to day life and a quality of life, and to revitalize our economy, South Carolina has to increase per capita testing to allow us in public health for a more precise idea of disease transmission in communities, and an understanding of where interventions may be needed to control spread. This will help us reactivate businesses and community activities more safely.

Dr. Linda Bell: (06:56)
Through our testing plan, our goal is to test 2% of the state’s population or approximately 110,000 South Carolinians per month. And we are currently on track to meet that goal by the end of this month. Specifically, our plan focuses on three priority testing areas: Universal testing of nursing home residents and staff, expanding testing in under-resourced minority and rural communities, and conducting mass testing in urban areas. To help protect one of our most vulnerable populations, DHEC is conducting a universal testing plan of the approximately 40,000 residents and staff in the state’s 194 nursing homes. And we have completed phase one of this testing plan, which included 74 nursing homes, and we’re well on our way to reaching our goal of testing all 40,000 residents and staff by the end of this month. As we enhance our testing capacity at our-

Dr. Linda Bell: (08:03)
… congregate facilities, we also recognize the importance of increasing testing across the state and increasing access to testing, especially for those at greatest risk for severe illness from the disease. To do that, DHEC continues to work with federally qualified health centers, with our healthcare systems in USC and Prisma, and other community partners to expand COVID- 19 testing across the state as part of our statewide testing strategy.

Dr. Linda Bell: (08:35)
So far during the month of May, more than 65,000 tests have been conducted at testing sites across the state. And as part of this effort, DHEC and our partners have held 55 mobile testing events. We have scheduled 58 additional mobile testing events, and we continue to add more sites daily. The mobile testing includes the following priority testing events. There are 45 located in under resourced communities, 56 in areas of high population density. There’s one in a tourist location, in Myrtle beach, and there are 11 additional priority events being scheduled. Together with our partners, we currently have a total of 202 testing clinics, and this includes stationary clinics like doctor’s offices and hospitals available across our state.

Dr. Linda Bell: (09:33)
As we continue our measured approach to relaxing restrictions, it’s important to remember that businesses do not spread the virus. It is people who are spreading the virus. It is spread by people in their actions or their measures to prevent the spread. And so in addition to testing and finding cases, we continue to encourage everyone, how critical it is to follow the steps to stop the spread of disease, to make personal choices and take personal responsibility to protect themselves and to prevent spread in the community. All of these measures help us flatten the curve that we’re all paying attention to, to see how well we are in effectively preventing the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Linda Bell: (10:23)
So again, these specific measures that we strongly recommend everybody continue to follow, is practicing social distancing, remaining six feet apart, avoiding large crowds and large events. In addition to social distancing, it’s important to wear a mask while out in public, to follow disinfection recommendations frequently for environmental surfaces, and to also practice personal hygiene by regularly washing your hands, especially after you’ve been in public and also to monitor for symptoms of illness. And if there are symptoms of illness, we encourage people to stay home, to avoid group settings, not go to work, keep your children home from group settings, and all of those measures help prevent the spread of disease.

Dr. Linda Bell: (11:12)
As always for additional information, please visit the DHEC website Thank you.

Henry McMaster: (11:22)
Thank you very much, Dr. Bell. As you can tell, we’re making progress. And I’ll just mention that the way that we approached this back in March was to, rather than setting out the essential and non-essential and trying to list everything, we listed those things very carefully, those that because of the close contact or the crowds it would be activities or areas that would be conducive to the spread of the virus.

Henry McMaster: (11:54)
But those that have not yet had the restrictions listed or excuse me, lifted… those that have not had the restrictions lifted, I’ll mention those just to give you an idea of how far back along the list we are. And those include entertainment venues and facilities. Those are such things as nightclubs, bowling alleys, concert venues, theaters, auditoriums, and performing art centers and racetracks. Darlington just had a race on Sunday and they had to cancel another one because the weather, I think. And I think they’re going to have two either today or tomorrow. By the way, I understand it was viewed by something like close to 7 million people, which is a record. If you missed it, you can see it online. It’s quite exciting.

Henry McMaster: (12:48)
Those still have restrictions on them as do adult entertainment venues and spectator sports. As I said, of course, Darlington is a racetrack, but also is a spectator sport, but because of the lack of spectators there, they went ahead. And also we’re going to have the PGA coming up in June and they will not have spectators either. We never closed hotels. We never closed, certainly, never closed churches. A number of things that we did not do that they did in other places. And if anyone has any questions, I would urge them not to look and see what other States did, but contact the state department of commerce. State department of commerce is one that can give you immediate information on the various limitations.

Henry McMaster: (13:42)
Are there any questions? Yes, Shawna.

Shawna: (13:44)
So tell me about why you decided to open up towards the attractions for this weekend and why, it’s pretty wide open, why all categories?

Henry McMaster: (13:54)
Well, that was the recommendation, the studied recommendation and findings of accelerateSC. And of course, part of accelerateSC, you’re familiar with the membership, that includes all the state agencies, including parks recreation and tourism, as well as department of health and environmental control and everyone concerned. And we can’t keep things closed forever, of course. The constitution doesn’t allow it. Neither does common sense. And neither would the economy. Public health consists of economic health, physical health, and mental health. And every time you take one action in one of these areas there’s another reaction, sometimes unintended consequences, in others. So we are mindful of all of those things. This was the time to remove those restrictions. Yes, sir.

Speaker 2: (14:49)
Governor, you didn’t include nightclubs, concert venues, bowling alleys, movie theaters. Is there anything particular about those types of venues that make it hard to come up with guidelines?

Henry McMaster: (14:58)
There are a number of things, including the touching and the facilities, the crowds involved and also we have not yet received the studied recommendations of accelerateSC, which includes all the components I mentioned a while ago. When we receive that, then we’ll make that decision. That should be very soon. Yes, ma’am

Speaker 3: (15:21)
Governor, how proud are you of Darlington at this point, seeing that first race and being able to have others in the future?

Henry McMaster: (15:27)
I think it’s just wonderful. And I say again, if you’ve never been to Darlington, you really ought to go at least once and you really develop an appreciation for what goes on there. Peggy and I’ve been a number of times and have been allowed to go down into the infield and meet the drivers, Richard Petty and all those famous drivers. It’s really, it’s quite something. But it is high tech. It is an enormous IT exercise. Everything has computers. They measure the temperature on the tires.

Henry McMaster: (16:03)
Everything is being photographed. Fact, you can go online and ride around in the car with them and see what it looks like from the driver’s point of view. You see in front of him, and there are a few women that are driving as well as the men. See behind them, see beside. There’s a lot of science as well as a skill and courage involved, but it’s high tech and high power. Those vehicles are eight to 900 horsepower, they get up to 200 miles an hour on the straightaway. It’s quite something to see. But to have the first NASCAR race of the season to open in Darlington, South Carolina on the Track to Tough To Tame, the Lady in Black, they call it, is quite something for South Carolina. We’re happy to have the first PGA Tournament, The Heritage in Hilton Head as well, coming in June.

Speaker 4: (16:52)

Henry McMaster: (16:52)
Yes, ma’am

Speaker 4: (16:53)
… some schools are planning to have in-person graduations, 400 students, a few family members per student. We’re looking at crowds from 1,500 to 2, 000 people in the next few weeks. How concerned are you about those size graduations and gatherings?

Henry McMaster: (17:07)
Well, everyone knows. We’ve heard it from Dr. Bell, Dr. Toomey, Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci, we’ve heard it from everyone on every side that we must be careful. And in the conversations we’ve had with those institutions, they are determined to be very careful, practice the social distancing. It’s not going to be just like it used to be, at least not this year. It’s going to be different and there’s some disappointments involved, but also this particular class of 2020 will take a place in history as being a very unusual situation. But the smiles and the happiness that we’re seeing from some of the activities that have already taken place are heartwarming. And again, we’ll get through it because we have confidence in the people of our state to have good leadership, they have good understanding, and they respect each other. And I think we will get through it just fine. Yes, ma’am?

Speaker 5: (18:07)
We talk about consumer confidence as well. Can you talk a little bit about the resources that are being given to some of these tourists attractions and these facilities that are now reopening or getting ready to reopen?

Henry McMaster: (18:18)
Well, they all have the guidelines that are available on the DHEC website as well as is the accelerateSC website and all the links they have. But the public officials in those counties and in those towns also are on high alert and are very active in getting the information out about what the best practices are. Of course, law enforcement will be there if things get entirely out of hand. We hope that doesn’t happen, but there’s plenty of guidance out from authoritative sources, and we feel confident things that will work. Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 6: (18:55)
How do you think this reopening for Memorial Day weekend will affect crowds and tourists coming for Memorial Day?

Henry McMaster: (19:02)
Well, I expect that it may increase them, but also it’ll give them more places to go. One of the recommendations of accelerateSC is the beaches are open now, but it’s only the beaches open, and the people that go to that area, to say to Myrtle Beach, will all be on the beach. But if these other things are open, a lot of them will want to go to there, and even though there’ll be more people coming in, there’ll be more places for them to disperse to, more places for them to go. So in the end, it’ll be good for the economy and good for the people as well.

Speaker 7: (19:36)

Henry McMaster: (19:37)
Yes, sir?

Speaker 7: (19:38)
Going off that, will there be a limit to capacity for these tourist attractions, similar to what restaurants have deal with?

Henry McMaster: (19:44)
All of those, yes. Those sorts of things are all limited in the guidelines. It’s different for every institution and they ought to take a look. Now, of course, there’s no sanction for not following those other than probably the great loss of business. As you heard from the accelerateSC, I think it was yesterday, Mayor Knox White of Greenville who is on their team, they’ve developed a Greenville Pledge where they have criteria that are set out and if a business or an activity or a venue wants to get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, it’s called the Greenville Pledge sticker to put on their door, they have to agree to follow and to implement all of those recommendations and guidelines that are being published, in this case in Greenville.

Henry McMaster: (20:37)
That’s a very good idea. And we would encourage people to do things like that, all the municipalities, very easy to do that, and can use what they did in Greenville as an example.

Speaker 8: (20:48)

Henry McMaster: (20:49)
Yes, sir?

Speaker 8: (20:51)
What’s the plan in case case numbers go back up, if we have spike? And do you trust your residents to follow the social distance guidelines that Dr. Bell has repeatedly said over and over again?

Henry McMaster: (21:00)
I do trust them to, and we have seen good compliance in South Carolina. That’s one thing that has made the numbers that we’ve seen … there’s still too many illnesses and certainly too many deaths … but we see that we’re making good progress. If the people follow the guidelines, follow the advice in this reopening and as the people move around, and also with the intensive testing and tracking procedures that you’ve just heard about with 202 sites in South Carolina right now and counting, where people can go get tested, and then that test of course is sent to the lab, and then they get the results. And we’ve already got, I think it’s over a thousand people already available to do the tracing, to follow up with those who have tested positive. If we stick together and we do what we’ve planned on doing, we ought to be in good shape. And that’s what we’re counting on. Yes, ma’am?

Speaker 9: (22:07)
Governor, you sent a letter yesterday to MUSC’s President on the 25 million sent by the legislature. Why did you feel the need to do that? Were you afraid that they would not be transparent?

Henry McMaster: (22:18)
No, ma’am. We were making it very clear this is a lot of money that’s coming into our state, and every agency, every institution that receives this money is going to receive a letter like that one because we have an inspector general. As well as part of the legislation, part of the CARES Act legislation, there’s a new inspector general, a new federal inspector general that’s going to be following up. I can’t remember how many millions of dollars they’ve given that brand new office. And they say they’ll be following up on these things for two or three years they say, to be sure that the money was spent where it was supposed to be spent. We are in that mode. We want to be sure that all of our people in our great state know that there will be an accounting, and we want them to know before they get the money that there’s going to be a very tight fiscal accounting, and not have to learn about it later. We want everybody to have the systems in place to be able to account for every penny when that question is asked.

Speaker 10: (23:24)
Governor, how important is it for everyone to be wearing a mask when they’re out at businesses or in public on beaches? How important is that?

Henry McMaster: (23:30)
Well, face coverings, a mask, or those shields have been recommended by every authority. It all depends on the situation. If you’re a farmer and you’re in a field by yourself in the tractor, you probably don’t need to wear one, but if you’re inside and particularly if you’re around people, then that’s a different story. But all those guidelines and recommendations have been made public and spoken here hundreds of times. So it is important to take care of yourself. We can not have an-

Henry McMaster: (24:02)
… epidemic. Dr. Bell and Dr. Toomey and Chief Keel cannot follow everybody around, or Chief Holbrook to be sure that they’re doing the best things for them. And your mama and your daddy might not be there either. But if you just do what your mama taught you way back then, is be careful with strangers and cover your cough and your sneezes and wash your hands, we’ll be in good shape. Today in this context, we call it social distancing. Yes.

Speaker 11: (24:35)
Dr. Bell, if you could address, what are the differences, if any, in guidelines for masks indoors and outdoors, and should people be wearing them on the beach?

Dr. Linda Bell: (24:46)
As the governor said, the mask is needed if you’re going to be in close contact with somebody. So if you’re out on a beach and you’re not in close contact with someone, then you don’t need to wear a mask. If you’re outside exercising or taking a run or something like that, then you don’t need to wear a mask. But in any setting, whether it’s inside or outside, if you’re going to be in close proximity for a period of time, more than a matter of a few minutes, then it’s recommended to wear a mask because you can’t predict when you might encounter somebody who could be spreading the virus who may not be having symptoms. So the mask is an extra measure of protection in addition to the recommendation to maintain social distancing.

Speaker 12: (25:29)
Dr. Bell, can you talk about how well contact tracing is going? How successful has it been so far and has DHEC identified any possible outbreaks or been able to stop any possible outbreaks because of increased efforts with contact tracing?

Dr. Linda Bell: (25:43)
Yeah. The contact tracing has been very successful. Contact tracing is a measure that we in public health use for a number of communicable disease conditions. We do contact tracing for, people who may have hepatitis or sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis. So this is a measure that we employ all the time, and we have done this throughout this outbreak for every reported case of COVID-19 that we could identify, that we could find, those individuals are interviewed and they’re asked confidentially about who they might have come in close contact with.

Dr. Linda Bell: (26:20)
And then we follow up with those close contacts. We don’t say in what setting they may have been exposed, but we provide recommendations to them about what they can do to monitor for symptoms and to prevent spread. And so those measures have been very successful. Now, the volume of cases that we will be looking at now, we’re very fortunate to have a much larger workforce to help with that contact tracing and to continue those measures that we’ve had in place all along with a larger number of people.

Speaker 13: (26:51)
Dr. Bell, illness onset … recently released data did show that our illness onset is now around February 12th. Are there earlier cases than we previously knew from the onset the first week of March that we originally knew about?

Dr. Linda Bell: (27:03)
By illness onset, you mean the first cases identified in the United States?

Speaker 13: (27:06)
In South Carolina, it’s now showing February 12th.

Dr. Linda Bell: (27:10)
In South Carolina? Well, so something that, that has become evident with an analysis of how disease transmission occurred in the United States is that it’s probably likely that cases were occurring before the cases were first confirmed by laboratory testing. And so we consider that that is also the possibility in South Carolina, that early on with subtle and vague symptoms of just a fever or muscle aches when people didn’t know what to … weren’t aware of COVID-19, for mild illnesses which they might not normally seek medical attention, the possibility is that there was some circulation of cases prior to the confirmed cases. But we do believe in South Carolina that for the most part, the first identified cases in a very concentrated community without additional evidence that were significant other unidentified cases prior to what we first saw in Kershaw County, that we feel we have a pretty good handle on the start of the epidemic in South Carolina.

Henry McMaster: (28:14)
Thank you very much. Final point. While we are lifting these restrictions and we’ll lift others later and have lifted others before, I want to remind everybody that this is a dangerous disease, a dangerous virus, and things that we may have done before out of courtesy and good manners that were matters of courtesy and good manners are now actually matters of life and death. So you must follow these guidelines, pay attention, and remember that although we are lifting these regulations, lifting these restrictions, the virus is still here, is just as strong as it was at the beginning, and we must continue to be very careful and maintain that social distancing. Thank you very much.

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