Amid flurry of SC cancellations, Senate will keep meeting

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Amid a flurry of cancellations of college classes, athletic events and St. Patrick’s Day parades in South Carolina over the coronavirus outbreak, one institution plans to keep going – the state Senate.

Senate President Harvey Peeler gaveled out the Senate for the week Thursday and told senators to be back at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“I’m no human health expert. But I’m a human nature expert,” the Republican from Gaffney said. “We tell people to ‘stay calm, don’t worry, things are going to be fine’ and then start closing things, there’s a mixed message.”

The South Carolina House is not meeting next week, but that was a planned break after the chamber finished its work on the state budget.

Gov, Henry McMaster asked the General Assembly to release $45 million to state health officials as soon as possible to fight the virus. McMaster asked lawmakers Thursday to take the money from $128 million set aside for income tax credits, since those credits won’t be needed until 2021 tax returns are filed.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control said it needs the money for overtime for epidemiologists and other workers, possible quarantines of poorer sick people and other items.

Two more people in South Carolina were diagnosed Thursday with COVID-19, state health officials said. One new case is in Lancaster County and one is in Kershaw County. There are now 12 cases in South Carolina, with eight around Camden, a city of about 7,200 people about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northeast of Columbia. No deaths have been reported.

Two of the infected people are members of a United Methodist Church in South Carolina and are in the hospital. The pastor of that church and two other members have voluntarily isolated themselves at home, South Carolina Conference Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said in a statement. He did not identify the church.

The state has tested 87 people for the virus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people with the virus are in just four countries: China and South Korea – where new cases are declining – and Iran and Italy, where they are not. The spread has slowed so much in China that the government sent a medical crew to Italy and offered surplus supplies to Iran and other countries in need.

For coronavirus testing. the Medical University of South Carolina started collecting samples in a parking lot so people can drive up and not enter a medical facility.

Universities across South Carolina canceled classes next week. One exception is Clemson University, which has its spring break.

State prison officials canceled visitation through the end of the month.

St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals have been postponed or canceled in Columbia, Charleston and Fort Mill. The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference suspended all sporting events.

The Carolina Cup horse races in Camden scheduled for March 28 were scrapped for only the second time in more than 80 years, organizers said Thursday.

Depending on the rate of the continued spread of the virus in the state and surrounding areas, health officials may begin suggesting people stay home, state Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell told the DHEC Board on Thursday.

“We first recommend people stay home. But when they don’t follow that step large public gatherings become more dangerous,” Bell said.

Peeler said he is always willing to change his mind about next week’s South Carolina Senate session depending on what health experts tell him.

“If I cancel the Senate, you don’t have to ask. Something’s bad,” Peeler said.

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