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SC News

SC Gov Hopeful Would Require Vaccines for Public Students

Mia McLeod, Coley Mearite
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
FILE - In this June 1, 2021, file photo, state Sen. Mia McLeod, left, stands in the sanctuary of Shiloh Baptist, her family's church, talking with Rev. Coley Mearite in Bennettsville, S.C. Age-eligible South Carolina children would be required to show proof of coronavirus vaccination in order to attend public schools in the state, under a proposal introduced by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mia McLeod. The effort was rolled out Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, as part of the Democratic state senator's plan to boost South Carolina's lagging coronavirus vaccination rate, if she's elected to its top office. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

Age-eligible South Carolina children would be required to show proof of coronavirus vaccination in order to attend public schools in the state, under a proposal introduced by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mia McLeod.

The effort was rolled out Tuesday as part of the state senator's plan to boost South Carolina's lagging coronavirus vaccination rate, if she's elected to its top office in 2022.

Also among McLeod's proposals are the implementation of a statewide mask mandate until at least 70% of South Carolina residents have gotten their shots, as well as requirements that state employees get vaccinated or submit to weekly coronavirus testing.

As of Saturday, just under 45% of eligible South Carolina residents had been fully vaccinated, according to state health officials. McLeod blamed the low number on a lack of leadership under incumbent Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who is seeking his second full term.

"As the Delta variant rips through our communities, cases across SC are skyrocketing with more senseless, preventable deaths piling up at the Governor's feet," McLeod wrote in a statement. "Doing nothing as this deadly variant sickens and kills our citizens is utterly unconscionable."

New COVID-19 cases have recently been on the rise, with the average number in South Carolina doubling in the past two weeks to about 400 cases a day amid no signs of slowing down, according to state health officials.

The debate over whether South Carolina students and staff should wear masks this fall has been roiling since the spring, when McMaster called it "the height of ridiculosity" for a school district to require a mask over any parent's wishes that their child go without one. State lawmakers subsequently passed a budget proviso prohibiting the state's public colleges, universities and school districts from using any appropriated funds to institute mask requirements.

During a continuing debate over whether students and school staff should wear masks this fall, McMaster tweeted last month that, while "The Delta Variant poses a real threat to South Carolinians," he felt that "shutting our state down, closing schools and mandating masks is not the answer. Personal responsibility is."

Even during the peak of the pandemic last year, McMaster did not issue a comprehensive mask mandate, opting instead for smaller-scale mandates such as requiring face coverings in state government buildings and restaurants. The governor consistently stressed, however, that residents take personal responsibility for their actions.

McMaster, who posted photos of himself getting vaccinated earlier this year, has said that, while getting the COVID-19 vaccine was the right decision for him, others who are reluctant need to talk to friends, pastors and doctors and should make their own choices.

McMaster has not discouraged anyone from getting the vaccine, although the incumbent governor did come out firmly against having teams go door-to-door offering doses.

As part of her plan, McLeod also said that she would work with public health experts to develop best practices on vaccinations and safety protocols and "request and distribute all available federal pandemic funding for South Carolina."

Several Democrats are competing for their party's nomination to become South Carolina's next governor, a post no Democrat has held in nearly two decades.

Last month, another Democrat in the race, former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, released a three-point plan to boost coronavirus vaccines, including a "Vaccine Ambassador Program," using federal pandemic relief funds to create public service announcements, as well as a "primetime Oval Office-style address" to the state to press the need to get vaccinated.

This is the first official policy plan for McLeod, who represents areas near the state capital of Columbia.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.