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McMaster lifts 'last call' ordinance as CDC advises continued vigilance

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Starting today, S.C. restaurants and bars can resume alcohol sales after 11 p.m., and large gatherings of 250 or more no longer require approval from the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Given the state’s 79% decline in COVID-19 cases since early January, as reported by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, and ongoing vaccination efforts, Gov. Henry McMaster said “targeted and limited safety measures are no longer necessary” in lifting the ban on both on Friday.

The “last call” order had been in effect since last July.

“The virus is still among us and we all must continue to make responsible decisions to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, but those decisions are for South Carolinians to make,” McMaster said in a news release.

That message contrasts with remarks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director at a White House briefing the same day.

“Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing.

She empathized with those who are tired of pandemic restrictions and want to life to return to normal but insisted that goal has not yet been achieved. Vaccinations will be the path out, she said, and more people need to be inoculated before restrictions are eased.

While national rates for COVID-19 cases and admissions have been declining since early January, Walensky noted that drop followed one of the highest peaks yet in the pandemic, when 315,729 cases were reported Jan. 8. She also warned that the decline in cases is stalling.

“We may be done with the virus, but clearly, the virus is not done with us,” she said. “We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us — not now; not when mass vaccination is so very close — when what we need to prevent this is truly imminent.”

Edward Simmer, newly confirmed as DHEC director, urged continued mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinations.

“Many South Carolinians have done their part by practicing the prevention measures we know work,” Simmer said in a statement. “We are here today because of our citizens’ careful and ongoing efforts, and we thank you for taking care of each other and putting your community and people first.”

On Sunday, S.C. DHEC reported 1,197 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 444,207. There have been more than 7,500 fatalities to date in South Carolina from the new coronavirus. Nationwide, cases have topped 28 million, with 510,777 deaths, according to the CDC.

“So I want to be clear: Cases, hospital admissions, and deaths all remain very high, and the recent shift in the pandemic must be taken extremely seriously,” Walensky said.

Reach Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.

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