On Monday, Gov. Henry McMaster announced that he would allow some retail stores in the state to reopen and that public beach accesses would no longer be closed, the first moves by state leaders to loosen restrictions intended to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But health officials are nearly unanimous in their projections that COVID-19 cases will continue and that social distancing measures are still necessary.

McMaster has been reluctant to force businesses to remain closed despite public health warnings that the highly contagious and hard-to-treat novel coronavirus continues to threaten humans around the world. Closures in S.C. and elsewhere have dramatically increased the number of jobless, with more people applying for unemployment benefits over the past month than all of 2019.

“In destroying this virus, we must be sure not to destroy, permanently, any of these businesses,” McMaster said Monday.
[content-4] Nearly 40,000 people have died in the U.S. after being diagnosed with COVID-19 infection. South Carolina has seen a lower concentration of cases than “hot spot” states like New York, but new cases continue to be confirmed in South Carolina.

Monday’s 64 new cases was the lowest daily count since late March, but Department of Health and Environmental Control officials have cautioned against closely analyzing individual day counts due to fluctuations in testing and results.

McMaster’s executive order on Monday relaxes restrictions on retail businesses including clothing, jewelry, and sporting goods stores as well as florists, flea markets, and others. Establishments must continue to restrict access to five customers per 1,000 square feet or 20 percent of fire code capacity, whichever is less.
[content-3] State beach accesses are also ordered to be reopened, according to McMaster’s order. Some Charleston-area beach towns have continued to restrict non-resident access in an effort to prevent community spread in the small communities with limited resources to police large groups for public health threats.

“This is a gradual step and we have confidence that it is a good, well thought out step and we are confident the people will be able to operate safely with it,” the governor said Monday.

Officials at MUSC and elsewhere have said that the expected peak demand time on state health care resources will occur in late April, assuming that social distancing measures continue.

During Monday’s press conference, DHEC epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell did say that the drop off in cases may be the very early days of a flattening of the curve, but it is still too early to tell for sure.

Asked directly if she agrees with McMaster’s move to loosen the restrictions, Bell did not clearly support or refute the moves.

“I understand the importance of economic recovery,” Bell said Monday. “But [as] public health practitioners, we do the disease monitoring and as long as we continue to see a high level of disease activity in the community we will continue to recommend the measures that we know are effective in preventing disease spread.”