South Carolina: Visitors from virus hot spots to quarantine

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday ordered visitors traveling to South Carolina from several “hot spot” areas to immediately self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, the latest in a series of steps seeking to stem the new coronavirus outbreak.

In a new executive order, the governor said he was mandating self-isolation for anyone traveling to the state from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, as well as the city of New Orleans. Violations could result in up to 30 days in jail and $1,000 in fines.

“We’re making progress,” McMaster said, adding enforcement mechanisms for the order were still being developed. “We hope that our visitors will be as responsible as the people of South Carolina have been in following the recommendations and the requirements.”

McMaster spoke at a news conference, flanked by both of South Carolina’s U.S. senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Both senators lauded a $2.2 trillion relief package, signed Friday afternoon by President Donald Trump, that aims to shore up a U.S. economy and health care system left flailing by the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of things in there that I don’t like, but there’s a lot of things in there that are going to save lives,” Graham said. “We deal with hurricanes very well. This is hurricane that is not going to leave any time soon.”

On Friday, Trump also issued a federal disaster declaration that would allow South Carolina to have access to federal recovery assistance in the wake of the outbreak.

As of Friday, state health officials said there were more than 540 cases in South Carolina, having predicted more than 2,650 cases by April 2 and more than 8,050 cases by May 2. Four additional deaths brought the state total to 13.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

McMaster has voiced his opposition to a statewide “stay-at-home” order. He reiterated that position Friday, despite moves by the state’s two largest cities to do so, closing businesses like nail salons, gyms and barbershops. Earlier in the day, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a non-legally-binding opinion that a governor’s order during a state of emergency would preempt municipal ordinances, essentially saying only the governor - not cities or counties - could issue such measures.

Both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have ordered most visitors to leave by the weekend and told all hotels, motels, private rental companies and campgrounds to stop taking new reservations until at least May 1. Existing reservations are to be canceled or rescheduled.

Also Friday, the newest member of South Carolina’s congressional delegation, Charleston Democrat Joe Cunningham, said he had been diagnosed with the virus and had already been self-quarantining for more than a week.

Cunningham said he had tested positive and had been in self-quarantine since March 19, when the congressional physician told him he had been in contact with another member who had since tested positive for COVID-19. Cunningham said he has not been able to smell or taste anything since March 17, suggested early signs of infection, and would continue to telework from home.

The chief of South Carolina’s public health agency is taking temporary medical leave to combat high blood pressure, an absence officials said would not affect response to the pandemic. In an email to Department of Health and Environmental Control employees, Rick Toomey said Thursday that he is taking a two-to-three-week leave to treat his high blood pressure, which he said has not been responsive to medication changes since a visit to a chest pain center several weeks ago.

Toomey’s leave was first reported by The State newspaper. In his absence, Toomey said general counsel Marshall Taylor would serve as interim director.


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