South Carolina governor to end stay at home order as beach hotels open

Sun bathers and walkers visit the 2nd Avenue Pier area of Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Public beach accesses have re-opened in Myrtle Beach after being closed for weeks due to the coronavirus. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s governor will end the state’s stay at home order over the coronavirus next week and allow restaurants to serve people at outdoor tables as long as strict distancing rules are followed.

Gov. Henry McMaster’s announcement on Friday came the same day that state parks reopened along with a number of hotels along the coast and beaches that had been closed for over a month.

McMaster promised to keep listening to health officials as he decides what to reopen. Still closed are indoor dining at restaurants and close contact businesses such as hair salons.

But even with so much reopening, health experts are warning people to continue to follow social distancing. Large groups and parties are still banned, playgrounds and picnic shelters at parks are closed and hotels at the state’s most popular beach destination — Myrtle Beach — can’t start taking new reservations until May 15.

McMaster said Monday will mark the end of the order, which had allowed a $100 fine for anyone outside their home for a reason other than work, visiting family, exercising alone or going to an essential business like a grocery store.

The state also will allow outdoor table dining to resume Monday as long as restaurants keep 8 feet of space between tables, set a limit of eight people per table, and sanitize chairs, tables and seats after every customer. Restaurants must also keep any tents used for outdoor seating open.

Friday’s step of reopening the outdoors and letting visitors stay at the beach is critical in a state where tourism brings in nearly $2 billion in taxes every year. With the state bracing for a projected 50% drop in visitors, getting the outdoors reopened is critical.

“We need to make it OK for people to travel again, for people to shop again for people to do those things that bring our economy back,” said state Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Director Duane Parrish.

South Carolina is starting a marketing campaign. The first slogan going into rotation Friday is “dream now discover later.” That will be follow next month by “whenever you’re ready, we’ll be ready,” state tourism officials said.

But for towns on the coast, there remain plenty of worries. The Myrtle Beach City Council reluctantly agreed to invite visitors back because state law prevented them from keeping hotels closed after May 1.

The council did pass additional rules for hotels Thursday. They can only honor previously made reservations until May 15, when they can start taking new reservations.

Hotel workers must clean any frequently touched surfaces like stair rails or doorknobs every hour. Only one person or one family — with everyone wearing masks — can be on guest elevators, which could be quite unappealing in sprawling 15- or 20-story resorts that dot the area.

“We know with warm weather and that nice, pretty ocean out here, people are going to come whether we want them or not. So we’ve got to protect those people and our residents,” Myrtle Beach Council member Mike Chestnut said.

But the other things that allure people to the beach like go-cart tracks and amusement rides remain closed for now.

South Carolina has reported nearly 6,100 COVID-19 cases and 244 deaths, according to Thursday’s update from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Also on Friday, state parks reopened after being closed for more than a month. Shelters and on-site museums remain closed.

South Carolina Chief Justice Don Beatty on Thursday extended a ban on foreclosures and evictions until May 15.