Unemployment soars; stay at home orders in SC biggest cities
WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In the first week of economic disruption from the coronavirus, more than 31,000 people said they lost their jobs in South Carolina.
The state Thursday released unemployment claims for the week ending March 21, and the 31,054 claims were almost the same number of jobless claims filed over the first 11 weeks of 2020 combined, including a big spike after the temporary jobs created around Christmas.
More economic woes could be coming. The state’s two largest cities — Columbia and Charleston — have passed local “stay-at-home” ordinances that close businesses like nail salons, gyms and barbershops. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster again said Thursday he doesn’t think a similar order is needed statewide.
Both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach this week 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.
If all the unemployment claims made last week in South Carolina were approved, the number of people without a job in South Carolina would climb 55% from the January unemployment figures when the state Department of Employment and Workforce reported about 56,500 people out of work and a jobless rate of 2.4%.
More than 450 COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Carolina, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said in its daily update Thursday. State health officials said a limited amount of chemicals needed to test virus samples may mean significant fluctuations in new cases from day to day.
Two additional deaths were reported increasing the state death toll from the virus to nine. The latest deaths included Jack West, the son of former Gov. John West. The Camden man was a lobbyist and well-regarded at the Statehouse.
“He was a fine man. A fine friend. Those of us who knew and loved him are going to miss him,” McMaster said. “And I can promise that those of us here are going to do all we can to lose no more.”
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.
The General Assembly took this week off to protect members from the virus, and Senate President Harvey Peeler announced Thursday that the Senate won’t meet next week either. House Speaker Jay Lucas already told his members to plan to not come back to the Statehouse until the week of April 7.
Columbia City Council voted Thursday on its own “stay-at-home” ordinance based on the one passed by Charleston on Tuesday. It requires all non-essential businesses to close and shutters playgrounds and other places people could gather. It allows grocery stores, pharmacies, take-out restaurants and other businesses deemed essential to stay open.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he hopes the governor follows the lead of his largest cities.
“We have led from the front on this issue. We have not paid attention to political desires or even personal desires,” Benjamin said.
The city used data from state health officials and the University of South Carolina to come to its decision, the mayor said.
“It requires thoughtful public health officials be listened to and elected leaders to pass policies to help us slow down the curve of this virus and help save lives,” Benjamin said.
McMaster at his news conference going on at the same time sidestepped a question about whether local governments could legally pass harsher restrictions than the state in an emergency.
“The streets are clear. The beaches are clear. The people are not congregating there any more,” McMaster said in justifying why a statewide stay-at-home order wasn’t needed.
“The rules the instructions, the advice of experts based on facts and science are being implemented mostly in a voluntary fashion here in South Carolina,” the governor said.
AP writer Meg Kinnard contributed to this report.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.