COLUMBIA -- South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster will announce temporary closures for schools across the state as more cases of coronavirus continue to emerge, his office has confirmed to The Associated Press.￼
The governor will announce Sunday the closure of all schools, beginning Monday and going through the end of March, according to McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes.￼￼￼
Schools will be closed for two weeks, and food centers will be set up for students reliant on food provided in schools.
McMaster planned to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. Sunday. His decision applies to South Carolina's public schools, although some private educational institutions across the state have already announced cancellations of their own.
On Friday, following President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency, McMaster declared a state of emergency in two counties where coronavirus has been the most severe in South Carolina. The governor closed schools in Kershaw and Lancaster counties, the only areas in the state at that time with evidence of community spread, meaning the source of the virus is unknown.
An executive order also suspended visitation at state and local correctional institutions in all of South Carolina's 46 counties and direct state health officials to restrict visitation at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The governor also granted state agencies the ability to allow older or at-risk employees to work from home and has asked utility companies to not suspend or disconnect services for nonpayment.
On Saturday, state health officials said they were investigating six additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 19. Three of the new cases were from Beaufort County, where two people had known exposure to confirmed cases in another state, and the third had recently traveled internationally. All three people were isolated at home, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
No source of exposure had been identified for two people in Kershaw County, who were hospitalized in isolation. Another person in Lexington County was also hospitalized in isolation and had no recent travel to an infected area or known exposure to another case.
Last week, the University of South Carolina - the state's largest university - canceled classes for its 35,000 students at its main Columbia campus and in Lancaster, Sumter, Aiken and Salkehatchie until March 22, extending this week's spring break and moving to virtual instruction when students return. Other schools, including South Carolina State University, Coastal Carolina University and Furman University, also canceled classed until March 22.
McMaster's latest move shows the escalating decision-making process as the outbreak continues. On Wednesday, he stressed that "schools should continue to remain open and provide instruction." Some Democratic state lawmakers have called on the governor to allow the activation of emergency resources to cover health needs and response efforts.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of victims recover.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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