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As hospitality industry grows, so do new coronavirus numbers

June 19, 2020 GMT
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Servers wearing masks wait on customers on the deck of Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet, S.C. Rules for outdoor dining in South Carolina amid the coronavirus were relaxed on Monday. May 4, 2020. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)
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Servers wearing masks wait on customers on the deck of Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet, S.C. Rules for outdoor dining in South Carolina amid the coronavirus were relaxed on Monday. May 4, 2020. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s hard-hit hospitality industry in May clawed back some of the jobs lost amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as businesses across the state continue to reopen - and new COVID-19 case numbers continue to soar.

On Friday, South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce announced that the state’s jobless rate for the month of May stood at 12.5%, a slight improvement over a record-setting revised April rate of 12.8%. At that point, the coronavirus had wiped out nearly half of the state’s restaurant tourism and other hospitality jobs, with officials estimating overall annual revenue from the $24 billion tourism industry would be cut in half for 2020.

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Many of May’s gains came in the hospitality sector, which posted more than 36,000 new jobs. Trade, education and health services and businesses services showed nearly 25,000 jobs gained over the month.

Compared to a year ago, state officials said, South Carolina’s economy has lost 193,000 seasonally adjusted non-agricultural jobs. Only one industry - construction - showed any gains from May 2019, in the form of 300 positions.

Employment and Workforce director Dan Ellzey pointed out that the May labor survey was conducted during the same week Gov. Henry McMaster allowed restaurants in the state to re-open, a move that accounted for many of the hospitality job gains.

“We have a long way to go until our state can reclaim its previously historic low unemployment rate, but with the hard working people who make up this state, we know that when opportunity presents itself, they will be eager to rejoin the workforce and help be the necessary catalyst in rebooting our economy,” Ellzey said.

That economic reboot has been a priority for McMaster, who was one of the last governors in the country to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, and among the first to allow businesses to begin reopening. Last week, the governor said he would not close down the state again, noting the economic damage already caused by shutdowns and emphasizing a need for personal responsibility in terms of following hygiene and social distancing recommendations.

“We cannot keep businesses closed forever,” McMaster said then. “What it boils down to is, we must be careful individually.”

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Another recovery effort centers on plans for reopening schools in the fall. On Friday, members of a special committee tasked with studying that process discussed recommendations including placing a nurse in every school, hiring additional counselors and new cleaning protocols.

The group also noted possible changes including extending the school day, turning off water fountains and changing hallway traffic patterns to reduce or eliminate two-way traffic.

The discussion comes amid a record-setting week for new COVID-19 cases in South Carolina. On Friday, state health officials announced an additional 1,081 people had tested positive for coronavirus - a new single-day record - for a total number of more than 22,600 across the state, resulting in 639 deaths.

Officials also noted increased positive tests in South Carolinians under 30. Since April 4, data shows a more than 400% increase in newly reported COVID-19 cases in people ages 21 to 30, and more than a more than 960% increase in people ages 11 to 20. Those figures, which follow national trends, “tell us that younger South Carolinians are not taking social distancing seriously,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, a physician consultant with the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

On Thursday, state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell issued a renewed plea that the public at large be more stringent about wearing masks and following social distancing guidance.

“Every day that we don’t all do our part, we are extending the duration of illnesses, missed work, hospitalizations and deaths in our state,” she said.

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

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

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