Gov. Henry McMaster has removed restrictions on some “nonessential” businesses and launched accelerateSC, a statewide economic revitalization task force. He made the announcement during a news conference Monday.
“You may have noticed that the people of South Carolina are complying very well with the orders that have come out and the recommendations that have been issued as well from us and from the CDC and other places,” McMaster said. “So, in light of that, and in light of the common sense being shown by the great people of South Carolina, we are ready to take some steps that will help South Carolina assure that our economic health is as strong as our public health.”
Some retail businesses that had been restricted from in-house commerce in the April 3 executive order — including furniture and home-furnishings stores, florists, flea markets, book and arts merchants, sporting goods stores, clothing accessories and leather goods merchants, and department stores — were able to reopen after 5 p.m. Monday.
According to McMaster, all other nonessential businesses will remain closed, but all businesses in the state will be expected to operate at 20% occupancy or at a capacity of five customers every 1,000 square feet, whichever puts fewer people inside.
Law enforcement is still permitted to disperse groups of three or more people in public places.
“Our measured, deliberate approach has been the right one, we believe,” McMaster said. “Our goal was to cause the most possible damage to the virus, while doing the least possible damage — at least permanent damage — to our businesses.”
Dr. Linda Bell, epidemiologist with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said 64 more cases of COVID-19 had been counted across the state Monday, with 10% of all tests reading positive for the virus. That brought S.C.'s total confirmed cases to 4,439, with 124 deaths.
“The projections currently indicate that South Carolina may see 750 new cases per week by early May, and that the total number of cases is estimated to grow to 6,953 by May 9,” Bell said, adding that the University of Washington’s Institute of Public Health Metrics and Evaluation’s updated model shows that an earlier peak than previously expected for hospital bed occupancy and deaths across the state.
The governor also removed his executive order closing public access beaches, piers, docks and wharves, so local governments will be able to decide whether to reopen these areas, effective today at noon.
Demetre Park, a Charleston city-owned waterfront park on James Island, will remain closed, according to Peter O’Toole, communications director for the city, and Mayor John J. Tecklenburg will hold a news conference on the city’s response this afternoon.
“Our city attorney let council know that the governor’s order pre-empts local ordinances with regard to business closures,” O’Toole said following Monday night’s Charleston City Council meeting.
The Hilton Head City Council is also expected to vote this afternoon on a resolution to keep beaches and parks sealed off from public access until April 30, according to the city’s communication director, Carolyn Grant.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources said in a news release that properties including piers at its 13 state lakes, along with Bald Rock Heritage Preserve, Capers Island, St. Helena Sound Heritage Preserve Island, Fenwick Island, Botany Bay beach and Sassafras Mountain Observation Tower, would remain closed.
In a joint statement, the towns of Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Edisto Beach echoed that beach access restrictions would remain in place.
In addition to McMaster’s rollback of existing executive orders, he announced a 30-day task force called accelerateSC led by James Burns, a partner at Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough’s Columbia office. The task force will be launched by McMaster and Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette on Thursday, probably at the University of South Carolina Alumni building, according to McMaster and a corresponding release from the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
AccelerateSC, led by volunteers from a variety of sectors, will create a strategy for “reopening” the economy hinging on “response, protection, governance, resources and information,” according to a news release.
“We want to be able to slingshot around the competition and get back up to full speed as soon as we can,” McMaster said.
The task force includes 29 participants and, according to McMaster, will be a “one-shot information resource” for business owners across the state.
“It will target workforce needs, logistics, regulatory issues, transportation issues,” he said, adding that the state also will address initiatives for protecting its most vulnerable populations from the coronavirus.
Members of the task force include Greenville Mayor Knox White; Bob Hughes, chairman of Hughes Development Corp.; Lou Kennedy, CEO and owner of Nephron Pharmaceuticals and chairwoman of SCBio; Nicky McCarter, president and CEO of Hopkins Defender Services and Clemson University board member; James Bennett, a regional executive vice president for First Citizens Bank and a member of the Prisma Health board of directors; Mike Hamlet, pastor of First Baptist North Spartanburg; Chris Patterson, owner of Spartanburg’s Summit Filtration LLC; and Ted Pitts, CEO and president of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
“Realistically, some of these small businesses, when you force them to shut their doors, you are basically putting them out of business,” Pitts said Monday. “We need to find ways the mom-and-pops can operate on a limited basis like the big-box retailers.”
According to Pitts, some initiatives broached by the chamber policy committees and a national Council of State Chambers task force will be discussed by accelerateSC, with advising from the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance, S.C. Hospital Association, S.C. Medical Association and S.C. Retail Association.
He sees liability and tax policy as being front and center in ongoing discussions surrounding a post-pandemic economy.
“If there’s a company that started making PPE because there was a shortage of it, we want to make sure they aren’t all of a sudden a target for unnecessary lawsuits,” Pitts said. “Or a company or business has been allowed to stay open and operating and have done so in a safe manner, that they aren’t all of a sudden a target for the trial bar.”
Other members of the task force include: