South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is easing restrictions on some retailers and beach access because of what he called "common sense" of residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
McMaster said residents need to keep practicing social distancing measures, but that coastal towns can decide for themselves whether to let people access beaches starting Tuesday. And as of 5 p.m. Monday, many "nonessential" retailers – including flea markets, florists and department stores – can reopen as long as they limit occupancy to five customers per 1,000 square feet or 20% occupancy, whichever is less.
"To the extent that we can, we must let those businesses operate because if people want to work, they need to work, the families need to work, they need the jobs, and we're going to do all we can do to see that they can do that and continue with their lives as much as possible," McMaster said.
Still, the governor warned residents to be careful.
"We are still in a very serious situation," McMaster said. "We know this virus spreads easily, and we know it is deadly, particularly to our people who are older or have diseases that have suppressed their immune systems."
As of Monday afternoon, 4,439 people in South Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus, an increase of 64 from Sunday. The state's Department of Health and Environmental Concern also announced four new deaths related to COVID-19, meaning 124 South Carolinians have died from complications of the virus since March 16.
But McMaster said he's seen "compliance and common sense" among residents and he thinks reopening some businesses can be done safely. Law enforcement officers still have the ability to break up groups of three or more if police deem the gatherings a threat to public health.
"This is a gradual step," McMaster said. "Don't misunderstand. We are not opening up all businesses as usual, by any means."
One of the four people whose deaths were announced Monday by South Carolina officials lived in Lancaster County, which is near Charlotte. The other three people lived in Kershaw, Edgefield and Clarendon counties.
State epidemiologist Linda Bell, meanwhile, said recent case data showed South Carolina may be plateauing in new coronavirus cases, but there's no evidence yet of a consistent decline.
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