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SC restaurants, parks reopen as virus restrictions loosened

May 4, 2020 GMT
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A boy plays in the sand on Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Saturday, May 2, 2020. Myrtle Beach is one of a handful of beaches that have begun to open up public access points amid the continuing coronavirus outbreak, while others have opted to keep public access shut off due to health concerns. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
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A boy plays in the sand on Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Saturday, May 2, 2020. Myrtle Beach is one of a handful of beaches that have begun to open up public access points amid the continuing coronavirus outbreak, while others have opted to keep public access shut off due to health concerns. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina has officially begun loosening restrictions on travel, commerce and recreation implemented during the initial spread of the coronavirus, as the state tries to regain its economic footing ahead of the summertime tourist season.

Monday marked the end of Gov. Henry McMaster’s stay-at-home order, which placed a $100 fine on anyone outside their home for a reason other than work, visiting family, exercising alone or going to an essential business such as a grocery store.

Dine-in restaurants and close-contact businesses such as barbershops and gyms remain closed, along with playgrounds and nightclubs. But restaurants were being allowed to begin serving people in outdoor dining areas Monday, as long as tables were at least 8 feet (2.4 meters) apart, parties were limited to eight people and strict sanitation guidelines were followed.

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Since beginning a stair-step economic shutdown as the coronavirus spread in March — the slow pace of which was met with criticism from some demanding quicker action — McMaster has repeatedly stressed his desire for a swift, yet safe, financial reopening, noting the severe toll the outbreak has had on individual workers and businesses. Opponents have said reopening too quickly could allow a second wave of virus infections and economic shutdowns that will make things worse for the economy.

“We have a lot of people saying we are going too fast. Others say we are going too slow,” McMaster said on Friday. “I think we are doing it just right.”

Last week, three conservative legislators argued that McMaster’s reopening plan wasn’t speedy enough, and they asked South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas to call lawmakers back to the Statehouse to end the governor’s emergency orders. Lawmakers are set to return to Columbia next week, although Lucas has not commented on the specific request.

As business in the state gradually ramps back up, South Carolinians have eagerly gravitated toward newly reopened recreation areas. High temperatures and sunshine saturated the state over the weekend, and on Sunday, several state parks that reopened after weekslong closures quickly reached capacity. Two historic sites in Charleston, Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place, have reopened to visitors, although only for outdoor, self-guided tours.

With South Carolina bracing for a projected 50% drop in visitors this year, getting the outdoors reopened is critical to recouping lost revenue. Nearly $2 billion in annual taxes are brought into the state by tourism.

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Visitors are also flocking to South Carolina’s beaches, although many remained closed amid continuing concerns about the outbreak. In Myrtle Beach, one of the first to reopen public access points after McMaster’s decision to give municipalities the choice, hundreds of adults and children crowded onto blankets and beach chairs near public entrances over the weekend, even as adjacent beachfront hotels, along with their own beach points of entry, remained shuttered.

For most people, this coronavirus, to which humans have no natural immunity, causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.

On Monday, state health officials reported that there had been more than 6,700 cases of the virus in South Carolina, with 283 deaths. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.