Tuesday, March 31, 2020

McMaster stops short of stay-home order, but nonessential businesses must close to prevent COVID-19 spread

About 80 percent of Americans under instructions to stay home

Posted by Sam Spence on Tue, Mar 31, 2020 at 6:06 PM

click to enlarge Gov. Henry McMaster took the most aggressive steps yet to close nonessential businesses on Tuesday to prevent the spread of COVID-19 - SCETV SCREENSHOT
  • SCETV screenshot
  • Gov. Henry McMaster took the most aggressive steps yet to close nonessential businesses on Tuesday to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Gov. Henry McMaster took tentative steps on Tuesday to close some South Carolina businesses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but stopped short of a formal "stay-at-home" order that other states and even S.C. cities have enacted.

An executive order issued Tuesday by McMaster takes the approach of listing nonessential businesses rather than closing all businesses and outlining exceptions, as the City of Charleston has. Nonessential businesses mentioned in McMaster's order include entertainment venues, recreational facilities, and close-contact service providers. (See the full list below.) The order takes effect on Wednesday and remains in effect for 14 days.

The governor has faced calls from public officials, including U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, to issue a statewide stay-at-home order in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 as well as provide some indication of the extent of the state response to the pandemic public health crisis.

On Tuesday, Cunningham commended the governor's move, telling the City Paper, "For all intents and purposes, this is a stay-at-home order."

"I want to commend Governor McMaster for closing all non-essential businesses statewide and relieving small municipalities like Folly Beach, Edisto, Isle of Palms, and Sullivan’s Island from facing legal jeopardy by implementing their own stay-at-home orders," the congressman said.

Cunningham is under quarantine himself after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

Nationwide, more than 30 states are currently under stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the disease, about 80 percent of the population, according to a NYT estimate. In South Carolina, the number of DHEC-confirmed COVID-19 cases passed 1,000 on Tuesday, and 18 people have died after being diagnosed with the disease.

At Tuesday's press conference, McMaster said the list of nonessential businesses represented the product of efforts by his office to limit the negative impact of more widespread closures.

"These particular [businesses] — I think we probably have a smaller list — we've whittled it down to where we thought we could get the biggest impact with the least disruption," McMaster said. "We think that in our approach, which is to maximize our efforts aggressively against the disease while attempting to avoid all-but-necessary dislocations, is the right path to follow."
McMaster reiterated his calls for people to stay home but says he is not forcing people to stay home.

"We are not ordering people to stay at home, but from the very beginning we've been telling people to stay at home, recommending it," McMaster said Tuesday.

An advisory from the attorney general's office on March 27 created some confusion as to what legal authority local governments had to manage the public health response in their city limits. The opinion letter said that such orders likely ran afoul of state law, but Attorney General Alan Wilson later said he would not take local leaders to court over the matter.

While City of Charleston and Mt. Pleasant have both put in place emergency stay-at-home orders, spokesmen for Charleston County and North Charleston say their leaders are following the governor's lead.

McMaster previously said he believed local governments were taking steps they felt necessary, but was less deferential on Tuesday, saying that his orders supersede local actions. "That is the law. It has been the law."

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