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SC to reopen public beach accesses, retail stores that closed under coronavirus crackdown

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Police tape covers the entrance to public beach access on Folly Beach on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

South Carolina will reopen public beach accesses and retail stores next week that were closed under orders to slow the spread of coronavirus, The Post and Courier has learned.

Gov. Henry McMaster is beginning efforts to unravel the restrictions he ordered as COVID-19 cases swept across the state. He lifted the ban on public boat ramps and landings on Friday.

On Monday, McMaster will issue orders allowing beachgoers and visitors to rivers and lakes to use public accesses and shoppers to head back to clothing, jewelry and furniture stores, said Trey Walker, the governor's chief of staff.  

They will reopen Tuesday after being closed for a little more than two weeks because crowds continued to gather despite repeated warnings to practice social distancing.

Infection rates have dropped enough to ease some restrictions, Walker said. But state health officials have said they are not expecting a peak on coronavirus cases until early May.

Social distancing will be enforced on the state's 187 miles of coastline with authorities allowed to charge groups of three or more considered a health threat. People had been able to access beaches, rivers and lakes on private property.

Local governments can still make their own rules about waterway access. Some beach towns — including Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms and Folly Beach —  have banned access to nonresidents. 

All S.C. stores are expected to limit occupancy to five customers per 1,000 square feet of retail space or 20 percent occupancy, whichever is less. Many retailers, including grocery and hardware stores and gun shops, have been allowed to remain open during the outbreak.

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Stores allowed to reopen include department stores, flea markets and florists as well as shoe, luggage, book, craft and music shops.

McMaster has issued a number of orders since the state's first COVID-19 case was reported six weeks ago aimed at limiting personal contact to curb a deadly virus that people can carry without outward symptoms. 

There are no immediate plans to lift a stay-at-home order or a ban on eating inside restaurants, Walker said.

But the governor is looking at allowing close-contact personal-care businesses, such as salons and gyms, to reopen with the use of masks and other protective gear as well as limiting the number of customers, Walker said.

McMaster sounded optimistic on Thursday that the South Carolina can start lifting restrictions that led to more than 270,000 South Carolinians to file jobless claims in the past month.

COVID-19 has struck 4,246 South Carolinians, killing 119, according to the latest state health data.

The average number of reported cases is down by 16 percent this week versus the previous week. A one-day spike in cases during the week came after a private lab sent several days of results at once, state health officials. 

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