Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday announced that a wide range of businesses shuttered for the COVID-19 crisis will be allowed to reopen next week.
“Close contact” services such as salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and tanning centers can reopen May 18, provided they follow the governor's social distancing recommendations. Gyms, yoga studios, swimming pools and other workout facilities will also be allowed to resume business that day.
“In South Carolina, when the virus came, we did not shut down like some other states did,” McMaster said. “But we did slow down. Now we’re accelerating back up. And we hope to be at full speed just as quickly as possible, but also as safely as possible.”
When asked how his social distancing policies would be enforced, McMaster said business owners will take precautions to respond to customers' safety demands.
"The marketplace will work," he said. "In order to be competitive, you're going to have to be following these guidelines or you'll lose all your customers."
McMaster also said people who become ill could potentially sue companies over lax safety procedures and, if necessary, he said there could be criminal charges.
The governor did not provide a timeframe for when he would allow entertainment venues such as amusement parks and concert halls to reopen. Nor did he offer a date for removing all virus-related restrictions.
"There is no ideal date," he said. "But I can assure you that we are working as hard as we can at gathering information and recommendations and facts and science from all concerned to unleash South Carolina's great potential."
Along with relaxing regulations on businesses, McMaster also announced that state employees will begin returning to their offices once there is adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) in their workplaces. He said that should be the case no later than June 1. Employees will return in groups and in staggered shifts to ensure worker safety.
“We will gradually return to normal,” the governor said.
Dr. Linda Bell, the state epidemiologist, said Palmetto State officials continue to ramp up COVID-19 testing, which she said will play a critical role in how quickly the state can revive its struggling economy.
“In order to begin the safe transition back to a less restrictive quality of life and vibrant economy, we recognize the importance of increasing access to testing in communities across the state so that we can detect disease activity and understand how well it is controlled,” she said. “Widespread testing is important is every community because each of us continues to be at risk for exposure to someone infected with COVID-19.”
She said testing is particularly important in rural and underserved communities, which may not have access to the internet.