SC Supreme Court hears two ‘mask mandate’ cases Tuesday
By Mike McCombs
The Beaufort County School District reported 208 new positive cases of COVID-19 among students and 26 new cases among faculty and staff, for the week of Aug. 23 to 29. And roughly 11 percent of the students in the district are in quarantine.
That brings the total number of positive cases for the first two weeks of the school year to 388 students and 46 faculty and staff members.
The number of quarantining students is now up to 2,566, nearly double the total of 1,316 after the first week of school. There are 66 members of faculty and staff quarantining.
Meanwhile, as the Beaufort County Board of Education prepared to meet on Tuesday evening, several situations continued to develop that might impact the board’s decision on a mask mandate for students and faculty.
Firstly, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases Tuesday related to mask mandates.
The first case is between S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and the City of Columbia. Wilson argued that the city’s mask requirement in schools violated the proviso in the state budget prohibiting the use of state funds to pay for or enforce a mask mandate.
In the second case, the Richland 2 School District and an Orangeburg public school parent sued S.C. Senate President Harvey Peeler, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas and S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman over the constitutionality of the proviso.
“Rest assured, we are not medical professionals, we are not politicians,” S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty said. “And any decision that we may make will be based purely on the rule of law.”
The state’s highest court could rule on either one or both of these cases at any time.
Last week, disability rights groups and parents of children with disabilities, with the help of the ACLU, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the proviso that bans school districts from imposing mask mandates in schools.
The groups represent students whose disability, including underlying health conditions, makes them particularly susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, and argue that the ban on mask mandates effectively excludes these students from public schools, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
The lawsuit argues that the enforcement of this provision places all students, teachers, staff and their families at risk, but particularly targets children with disabilities that put them at higher risk for severe illness, lingering disabilities, or even death due to COVID-19.
“South Carolina’s prohibition on mask mandates requires school districts to defy their obligations under federal law and precludes them from following the official guidance from the CDC or SCDHEC. It is illegal, dangerous, and irresponsible,” ACLU of South Carolina Director of Legal Advocacy Allen Chaney said in a release.
And then Monday, following through on a statement by President Joe Biden last week, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into five states, including South Carolina, over the statewide restrictions of mask mandates.
Also, last week, the S.C. Department of Education re-instated mask requirements about all state-owned school buses.
Local & state numbers
As of Tuesday morning, there were 44 COVID-19 patients at Beaufort Memorial Hospital (BMH). All but three were not vaccinated.
Nine of those patients were in the ICU, six on ventilators. All of those patients were unvaccinated.
“Every day I treat patients struggling to breathe with COVID pneumonia. My patients are getting younger and younger. The vaccine is proven to prevent this,” Emergency Room Medical Director Dr. Stephen Larson said on the hospital’s Facebook page.
As of Tuesday afternoon, according to a hospital spokesperson, there are no pediatric cases at BMH.
The 44 COVID patients is down from of 52 on Sunday, the second pandemic high set by BMH in the last week.
Statewide, on Tuesday, the S.C. DHEC reported 4,343 new cases and 37 new deaths. There is a two-day lag on those numbers.
Friday’s total was 6,697, the third-highest total reported in the state since the pandemic began. There were 7,680 cases on Jan. 6 and 7,450 on Jan. 8.
There were 145 new cases in Beaufort County reported on Tuesday.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.