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Buttigieg, South Carolina mayor teaming up on COVID effort

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has teamed up with the mayor of South Carolina's capital city to help municipalities stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin said Thursday that he and Buttigieg have been co-chairing the Pandemic Resilience Working Group for America’s Mayors. The group is organized by the COVID-19 Study Group at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

The guidelines are important for cities, which have different concerns and needs amid the outbreak, Benjamin said. According to the mayor, his effort with Buttigieg has focused on providing accessible guidance to both policymakers and the public on how to target and suppress the spread of COVID-19, including a color-coded map to categorize an area's risk level based on the number of new daily cases.

“The roadmap that we’ve been able to lay out with the leadership of these amazing researchers, public health and policy can stop the spread of the virus, save lives and our economy,” Benjamin said. “I’m also excited to work with Pete Buttigieg again. As America was able to see over the course of last year, he’s one of the brightest minds in our country.”

He added that other mayors’ insights on what works — and what doesn't work — in their cities helped determine variant ways to stamp out the virus.

Benjamin is among other South Carolina mayors who have implemented regulations intended to stem the spread of coronavirus more stringent than at the state level, including a curfew intended to keep residents at home and a requirement that people wear facial coverings in public spaces. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who has stressed the need to wear a mask in public, has said a statewide mandate is unenforceable.

Recent escalating numbers have placed South Carolina third in the nation in newly diagnosed cases over the past 14 days adjusted by population.

Health officials on Thursday reported 19 additional people in the state had died after contracting coronavirus, for a total of 777 confirmed deaths since the pandemic began. More than 39,500 positive tests for the virus have been conducted, and more than 1,100 people were hospitalized in South Carolina after developing COVID-19.

Benjamin's relationship with Buttigieg initially developed when Benjamin served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Reportedly considered to be a top choice for VP on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, Benjamin — one of South Carolina's highest-profile Black politicians — played an outsized role in the 2020 race, ultimately endorsing former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Struggling to connect with Black voters who comprise a large majority of Democrats in South Carolina, Buttigieg departed the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating contest shortly after garnering only 8% in the state's February 29 primary.

Last month, the University of Notre Dame announced it hired Buttigieg for the 2020-2021 academic year. Buttigieg will serve as a faculty fellow in the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, working on two research projects: one that explores how to restore trust in political institutions and another that considers the forces shaping the 2020s. He will also teach an undergraduate course on the importance of trust in different fields.

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

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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This story has been corrected to show that Buttigieg received 8% of the vote in the South Carolina primary, not 2%.