SC marks 1st coronavirus death; lawmakers plan short return
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As South Carolina reported its first death Monday from the new coronavirus, lawmakers plan to return to the Capitol, but only long enough to pass a $45 million emergency request from state health officials.
State senators planned a normal week when they left Thursday. Those plans changed after Gov. Henry McMaster canceled all schools for the next two weeks and urged that all public gatherings be limited to 100 people or less. On Monday, President Donald Trump suggested 10 people might be the safe limit.
Now senators plan to come back Tuesday to approve emergency funding for state health officials and are asking lobbyists and the public to stay away from the Capitol and watch on the Statehouse’s website. The House now plans to cut its week off short Thursday to finalize the bill.
On Monday, a patient who contracted COVID-19 in a Lexington County nursing home died, marking the state’s first death from the virus, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said in a statement.
Meanwhile, cruise ship passengers returned to Charleston on Monday after a four-day cruise to the Bahamas on the Carnival Sunshine. They said they had their temperatures frequently taken while on board, but not as they left the ship . No one was wearing a face mask.
Several passengers said they had never seen a cleaner cruise ship. They said they weren’t allowed to serve themselves any food and there was hand sanitizer everywhere.
As of Monday afternoon, state health officials said 33 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Carolina. One new case was from Lexington County. The other four new cases were from Kershaw County, where more than half of South Carolina’s cases have been detected.
Officials from Kershaw County stood almost shoulder to shoulder at a news conference Monday in Camden. They said that while they are taking precautions, like closing some public buildings and conducting city business on video or conference calls, they also aren’t requiring businesses to close.
“Although this is an unfortunate event for our community, Kershaw County is proud of the way its citizens and business have rallied together,” said Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter. Carpenter highlighted a citizen donating 60 face masks and restaurants offering free meals for children out of school.
Dozens of cities across the state passed emergency declarations, closing public buildings and telling police officers and deputies to take non-emergency reports over the phone.
Charleston banned gatherings of more than 50 people outside of stores and private offices. Columbia restricted businesses to no more than half their legal occupancy and won’t allow more than six people to sit at a restaurant table.
State courts called off all trials in front of juries and ordered judges to postpone issuing warrants for people who don’t appear for hearings until the public health crisis is over.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of victims recover.
After the Senate adjourned Thursday, McMaster asked for $45 million in emergency money for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to pay for overtime for workers, extra safety gear, possible quarantines of lower income residents and other needs.
The Senate Finance Committee planned to meet Tuesday morning to vote on the proposal, said Republican Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman. It was expected to be approved by the full Senate later Tuesday and sent to the House, according to emails among the senators.
The Finance Committee meeting will be live-streamed and the Senate building may beclosed to the public because of the virus. Ten of the state’s 46 senators are 70 or older, the age group that federal health officials say are most susceptible to CODIV-19.
The House had planned to take this week off before the virus became a public health threat. House Speaker Jay Lucas is asking members to come back Thursday and approve the emergency money.
When either chamber of the Legislature will meet after that is unknown.
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