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McMaster orders closing of nonessential SC businesses to curb coronavirus outbreak

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Charleston's stay-at-home ordinance closed the city's bustling Market area to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Henry McMaster is temporarily closing what the state considers nonessential businesses Gavin McIntyre/Staff

COLUMBIA — As the coronavirus spread across South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster has closed schools, delayed elections and curbed dine-in restaurant service.

Now he's closing temporarily what the state considers nonessential businesses — a step shy of the stay-at home orders imposed by some of South Carolina's largest cities that also put limits on discretionary travel.

The governor's latest executive order, which takes effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, comes a day after he ordered a ban on all public access to beaches, rivers and lakes after large outdoor gatherings continued last weekend.

McMaster said Tuesday that the 11 executive orders he has issued since the state's first cases were reported take into account health safety, but avoid "going too far and destroying businesses and jobs people are depending on." 

"We think in our approach, which is to maximize our efforts aggressively against the disease while attempting to avoid all but necessary dislocation, is the right path to follow," McMaster said Tuesday.

Nonessential businesses with close contact among patrons will be shut down for at least 15 days. They include gyms, bowling alleys, spas, nightclubs, hair salons, nail shops and tattoo parlors. The order does not close retail stores. Day care facilities also can remain open.

"This was the bare minimum that we think we can do in closures in order to have the largest impact," McMaster said.

Many of the businesses closing under the order have already shut their doors because of the lack of customers with more people observing social distancing, he said.

At least 40 other states have shut down nonessential businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a tally from ABC News. Most of the states without a ban on nonessential businesses are in the South, including Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Texas.

McMaster has said he has no plans to issue a stay-at-home order enacted in more than 30 states, as well as by Charleston, Mount Pleasant and Columbia. Greenville is considering a similar order that in many cases close some retail stores. Several other cities, including Hilton Head Island, have asked McMaster to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

"(S.C. cities) have been looking for clarity and consistency from the governor, and we're still waiting," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said.

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Since the state's first cases were identified on March 6, the governor has taken several steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has struck 1,083 South Carolinians, killing 22. Cases are not expected to peak until the middle of May at the earliest.

McMaster declared a state of emergency that activated the National Guard and authorized troops to build medical units outside hospitals if necessary. His emergency declaration allows law enforcement officers to disperse groups of three or more people to promote social distancing.

He also issued orders banning dine-in restaurant service, prisoner and nursing home visitations, and gatherings of 50 more in public spaces that canceled major festivals.

McMaster closed public K-12 schools through April and state colleges through the semester, forcing students to take classes online. He delayed 45 local elections until May.

He ordered all nonessential state employees to work from home and demanded visitors from areas with high concentrations of cases — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and the city of New Orleans — self-quarantine for two weeks after arriving in the state.

McMaster's new order closing nonessential businesses starting Wednesday evening includes:

Entertainment venues — Nightclubs; bowling alleys; arcades; theaters and auditoriums; tourist attractions (including museums and aquariums); racetracks; indoor children’s play areas (excluding day care facilities); adult-entertainment venues; bingo halls; and venues operated by social clubs.

Recreational and athletic facilities/activities — Fitness/exercise centers; spas; public and commercial swimming pools; group exercise facilities (including yoga, barre and spin studios); spectator sports; sports that involve interaction within 6 feet of another person; activities that require sharing sporting equipment; and activities on commercial or public playground equipment.

Close-contact service providers — Barbershops; hair salons; waxing salons; threading salons; nail salons and spas; tattoo services; tanning salons; and massage-therapy establishments and services.

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