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Gov orders non-essential SC businesses closed amid outbreak

March 31, 2020 GMT
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A city worker places cones to block a beach entrance along the Myrtle Beach boardwalk, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Myrtle Beach Public Works crews were closing down public beach access points following South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's order to close access to beaches and public waterways amid the coronavirus threat. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)
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A city worker places cones to block a beach entrance along the Myrtle Beach boardwalk, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Myrtle Beach Public Works crews were closing down public beach access points following South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's order to close access to beaches and public waterways amid the coronavirus threat. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses in South Carolina, his latest in a stair-step escalation of measures aimed at quelling the new coronavirus outbreak.

The order, announced by the governor during a news conference on Tuesday, takes effect Wednesday and applies to thousands of businesses across the state, from tattoo parlors and hair salons to spas, nightclubs, theaters and museums.

Not included are grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as gas stations, banks and large-scale retailers like Walmart.

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“We must do everything we can to stop the spread, be as aggressive as we can be, using the facts, but at the same time, not going too far, destroying business and jobs that people are depending on,” McMaster said, on why some businesses were being ordered to close and not others.

The state’s two largest cities had enacted similar orders last week, but McMaster, a Republican, had previously shied away from issuing such a mandate for the entire state. Columbia and Charleston had opted not to lift their restrictions even after a Sunday opinion from state Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office that only the governor has the power under a state of emergency to make that decision. Greenville, another of the state’s largest cities, had planned to take up a similar proposal at a City Council meeting later Tuesday but postponed that meeting in anticipation of McMaster’s action.

McMaster said Tuesday that his order superseded any municipal-level action.

McMaster’s announcement comes a day after he ordered the closing of all access points to the state’s beaches, doing so after police had to break up large gatherings throughout the weekend. He also closed public boat ramps and public access points to rivers and lakes.

“This is unfortunate for those who chose to responsibly follow the instructions of our public health officials, but it is a necessary action to prevent the spread of this dangerous virus,” McMaster said in a statement with Monday’s executive order.

The governor has previously closed dine-in restaurants and bars and reduced allowable gathering down to just three people.

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Plenty of others have offered opinions. Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, on quarantine in his Charleston home after contracting COVID-19, said Monday that a statewide stay-at-home order is necessary to end the uncertainty of beach communities that don’t want hundreds of outsiders visiting.

Also Monday, Republican state House Speaker Jay Lucas said that cities need to lay off issuing their own orders and trust the governor’s response to the coronavirus. After McMaster’s beach closure order, Catherine Templeton — a former state public health chief who challenged McMaster in the 2018 Republican primary — called on the governor to mandate South Carolinians shelter in place, saying on Twitter, “It is time and he is right to do it now.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and be fatal. The disease is highly contagious.

South Carolina has reported at least 1,083 COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Tuesday afternoon update.

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

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