AP NEWS

As businesses reopen, McMaster urges SC to ‘be safe, but go’

May 15, 2020 GMT
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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks with reporters after the first meeting of accelerateSC, his advisory group about reopening the state economy, on Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks with reporters after the first meeting of accelerateSC, his advisory group about reopening the state economy, on Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — With the reopening of close-contact businesses just days away, South Carolina’s governor is urging the state’s residents to patronize local businesses shuttered for weeks during the coronavirus outbreak, albeit with appropriate safety precautions.

“Be safe, but go,” Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday. “Our economy is not made to be shut down.”

But the governor went on to note, “This virus is still here. It is still highly contagious.”

McMaster spoke with reporters during a break in Friday’s meeting of a component of his committee tasked with making recommendations for reopening the state following shutdowns during the outbreak.

Monday marks the date on which businesses like hair salons and fitness centers can reopen across South Carolina, where more than 486,000 unemployment claims have been filed in the last two months.

New weekly claims have declined as McMaster has gradually lifted orders that had restricted businesses deemed nonessential in an effort to stem the spread of the virus, which as of Thursday afternoon had caused 371 known deaths in South Carolina, according to state public health officials.

Thus far, more than 8,100 positive tests for COVID-19 have been reported in the state.

Asked if he were concerned about the mounting cost of unemployment benefits, McMaster said he was, adding that he felt his task force was making progress in finding solutions to issues of concern, like getting the state’s economy back on track.

“We don’t want to put that burden back on the business,” McMaster said.

During Friday’s meeting, officials gave updates on various issue areas, including efforts to reopen educational institutions. Rusty Monhollon of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education said that the state’s public colleges and universities estimate that they will feel a $203 million impact from the outbreak.

Some of that will be a more than $75 million needed for startup costs for the fall 2020 semester, to include additional health, safety and custodial personnel, as well as cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

“The goal is simple: bring students and faculty back to the campus safely,” said Monhollon, who is part of a group working to develop a set of recommended best practices for the state’s public and private institutions of higher learning for reopening.

Another area where normal activities are starting to return is sporting events. James Burns, head of McMaster’s task force, said he saw a positive sign in the NASCAR race being held at Darlington Racetrack this coming weekend, albeit with no fans in the stands.

“I think people are hungry for that,” Burns said, of the return of a familiar tradition in the state.

Asked by reporters about reopening sporting events, McMaster encouraged people to enjoy the weekend race, as well as next month’s RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, from afar - for now.

“Watch it on television this time, but try to go next time,” McMaster.

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