SC gov rolls out plans for post-outbreak economic reopening

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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster is rolling out details of a program that his office says will allow South Carolina’s economy to “recover more quickly than any other states in the country” from the new coronavirus outbreak.

McMaster on Monday announced the details of “Accelerate South Carolina,” which includes several key leaders in the state. Ahead of the official announcement, his office called the collaboration “the mechanism through which South Carolina’s economy will recover more quickly than any other states in the country.”

The more than two dozen participants, all of whom are volunteers, include mayors, presidents of institutions of higher learning, business owners and health care professionals. The group is headed up by James Burns, a business litigation attorney and former Defense Department deputy legal counsel who also served as chief of staff to former Gov. Nikki Haley. Its first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, with plans to hold multiple sessions over the next 30 days.

McMaster has repeatedly stressed his desire for a swift, yet safe, reopening of the state’s economy, noting the severe toll the outbreak has had on individual workers and businesses. Establishments including restaurants, bars, manufacturers, dentist offices and a number of others have closed for a variety of reasons, including mandatory orders from McMaster issued in an effort to stem the outbreak.

“To do so too quickly would be reckless,” the governor said last week, of resuming normal activity levels, noting several times he felt sure the economy would be “humming” by the end of June. “We are going to find the best ways to do it quickly and safely.”

Last week, nearly 88,000 people filed for unemployment, bringing the statewide total of those who live or work in South Carolina saying they lost their jobs because of the outbreak to more than 268,000. That figure represents more than 10 percent of the state’s total labor force of nearly 2.4 million.

On Monday, McMaster planned to begin loosening those economic restrictions, allowing businesses previously deemed non-essential — department stores, flea markets, florists, bookstores and music shops — to reopen their doors. The governor’s official stay-at-home order remains in place, although that mandate already allowed the patronage of essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, home improvement stores and medical facilities, as well as thousands of others that received waivers from state officials.

That follows his decision last week to begin reopening public boat ramps that have been closed for several weeks and encouraging anyone on the state’s waterways to practice social distancing. Public beach access points were also set to reopen, although McMaster’s office says ultimate decisions on those reopenings will rest with local officials. Already, some municipalities along the coast have said they “intend to maintain the entry checkpoints and access restrictions.”

“There is no evidence from medical professionals that indicates that the threat of COVID-19 in our region has diminished,” the joint statement said. “South Carolina is still in the acceleration phase and even with the reduction in growth of new cases, new cases could begin to grow quickly if social distancing restrictions are lifted.”

Officials have said they expected the outbreak to peak in South Carolina next month. On Sunday, Corrections Department officials announced the first positive COVID-19 test on one of the state’s more than 17,700 inmates, noting the 69-year-old man – who is serving a life prison sentence – has been in isolation since Friday and was being treated at a hospital.

Thus far, South Carolina has reported a total of more than 4,300 COVID-19 cases, which have resulted in 120 deaths statewide, according to public health officials. For most people, the coronavirus that caused this year’s pandemic causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.

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