University of South Carolina imposes masks again as COVID cases rise

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The University of South Carolina is forcing students to wear masks indoors this fall as the spread of COVID-19 has accelerated statewide.

The mask requirement went into effect on Friday. School officials cited new federal and state guidelines recommending that even those vaccinated should resume wearing face covers indoors in parts of the country where the highly contagious delta variant is spreading rapidly.

University officials said masks are required again inside campus buildings given Richland County’s high coronavirus transmission rate, although the school does not require face coverings outdoors, in private residences and offices, or for those who eat inside campus dining halls.

The school had relaxed its mask mandate for those vaccinated earlier this year.

“Gamecocks, I am disappointed that these steps were necessary as we were hoping for different circumstances when we got together,” Interim President Harris Pastides wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

In the letter, Pastides also urged members of the campus community to get vaccinated.

South Carolina’s public colleges and universities cannot force students to get vaccinated after lawmakers banned schools from making the vaccine a condition of enrollment.

Young adults already have the lowest vaccination rate of any age group in South Carolina. Only 20,320 vaccine recipients in the state were between the ages of 20 and 24, according to data updated last week by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. This represents about 1% of the 2.1 million vaccinated in the state.

Daily reported COVID-19 cases have reached levels not seen since February, with health officials counting 1,392 new confirmed cases on Friday. The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated, the state health department said.


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