The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have reached the U.S. state of South Carolina in March 2020. On April 2, 2020, DHEC announced that the virus had spread to all 46 counties in the state. As of September 2, 2020, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has confirmed 118,699 cases in the state, resulting in 2,652 confirmed deaths.
Governor McMaster issues an executive order requiring the mandatory shutdown of dine-in service in restaurants and bars. The order also includes the delay of state tax deadlines until June 1, the general request of state agencies to waive any restrictive regulations in order to move faster to address the virus, and also prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people at publicly-owned facilities. April 1: The Governor orders all non-essential businesses closed temporarily.
In April 2020, South Carolina received $1.9 billion in federal relief funds from the CARES Act. From this amount, $1.2 billion was allocated most of the funds have been allocated for jobless benefits and for schools, including extending broadband to rural communities to improve internet access. By mid May, almost half a million people had applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March when the pandemic began in South Carolina. In the first week of July, 198,318 people continued to seek unemployment benefits. On July 31, the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment assistance is slated to end, reducing the unemployment amount to $326 per week or less.
In late April, McMaster established the accelerateSC task force to assess and recommend economic revitalization plans for South Carolina during the pandemic. The task force’s final report was issued on May 28, 2020. The report contains 42 recommendations including using federal aid for the state unemployment trust fund, for expanding internet broadband access, to add five days of school for K-8 education, and for health care costs. On March 15, McMaster announced the closure of all public schools in the state until March 31.This was extended through the end of April, and on April 22, McMaster and Superintendent Spearman announced the closure of schools in South Carolina for the remainder of the school year.
In order to advise the SC Department of Education and make recommendations about how to best meet the needs of students during the COVID-19 pandemic in SC, Spearman established a task force, AccelerateEd, composed of educators and administrators representing different facets of the K–12 public education system.AccelerateEd released their recommendations regarding the 2020–2021 school year on June 22, 2020. The report contains guidelines and models for reopening, as well as the recommendation to follow best practices for health and safety recommended by DHEC and the CDC.
On July 20, McMaster announced that private K-12 schools will get $32 million (out of $48.5 million) in federal COVID-19 aid from the governor’s discretionary education account to assist low income families with tuition. The Palmetto State Teachers Association and the teachers group SC For Ed both responded that they were disappointed in McMaster’s decision and think that the funds would be better put to use to support public schools in South Carolina since they are currently facing significant challenges during the pandemic.
On March 19, the governor ordered all public colleges and universities in the state to finish their semesters online.In May, the University of South Carolina announced that teaching would be in person in the fall but that fall break would be cancelled and learning would be online after Thanksgiving. Clemson University announced that they will reopen for in-person learning this fall with all students and staff required to be tested for COVID-19 within five days prior to arriving on campus.
Universities and colleges in South Carolina will receive over $100 million from the CARES Act stimulus package.The funds are to cover costs such as refunds to students and other costs related to the pandemic, and at least half of the funding must be distributed directly to students. McMaster announced that the eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities in South Carolina would be allocated $2.4 million to enhance online learning from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.