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McMaster: 'Data and experience' doesn't show lift of 'Last Call' order for bars just yet

Gov. McMaster at HGTC

Gov. Henry McMaster spoke to a crowd of business owners and Horry County leaders Friday at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach about the state's SC CARES Act grant program.

MYRTLE BEACH -- The end of Gov. Henry McMaster's "last call executive order," which closes bars and restaurants statewide by 11 p.m. daily, came into question Friday as the public had a chance to ask the governor and other state leaders small business-related questions.

The governor was at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach on the campus of Horry Georgetown Technical College to encourage small business owners and minority-owned businesses to apply for SC CARES Act grants being offered by the state. Myrtle Beach was the fifth stop for the governor as the state tries to raise awareness for the grant program that had trouble launching earlier in October.

The floor opened to questions from the public and one man, who did not give his name, asked McMaster when he might lift the last call order. The man said he and his wife own a local bar and his business has been down 40 percent since the governor enacted the plan.

"According to the experts, the data and the experiences, it's late night that the bars..." McMaster started until the man interrupted him.

"That's fine for the college bars. My clientele are service-industry people. They don't get off until 10:30... We've been following all your protocols, but it's just killing us."

"I understand. We're vigilant," McMaster said. "We're trying to do our best. All we've heard from a lot of people in a lot of different kind of businesses, we're taking all of that into consideration. I can't make any promises at this point."

After the press conference, McMaster said the process to make the call is more than just him announcing the lift.

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"These restrictions, it's uncomfortable," McMaster said. "Sometimes it imposes great hardship, we're aware of that. All of these decisions are made not quickly."

He said the decision to lift the restriction is based on recommendations from AccelerateSC, which consists of leaders in business, medicine, academia, and education from around the state. They are assisted by legislators that made these "excellent plans."

"We're working that plan," McMaster said. "We can make changes when the data and the experience shows it."

Earlier this month, McMaster allowed bars and restaurants to allow full capacity. This came after months of requiring bars and restaurants to only open to 50 percent capacity. Other restaurant safety guidelines – including the required use of face coverings for patrons and staff – remain in place for the time being.

There are 80,000 hospitality-based jobs in the region, said Karen Riordan, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, who was also at the press conference. She said Horry County represents 6.9 percent of the state's population, but made up nearly 10 percent of the state's initial unemployment claims in March.

"The economic hardships of COVID-19 have been widespread in our tourism businesses, universally shared by all segments of the hospitality industry" she said. "Hotels, restaurants, golf courses, retail and attractions, alike. It's through the job loss and the subsequent loss of income for South Carolinians that the effects of COVID really hit home."

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