FAQ: What you need to know about City of Charleston's stay-at-home ordinance 

Stay in

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, Charleston City Council passed a "stay at home" ordinance that went into affect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, March 26. We were left with some questions, so we've compiled some answers. 

What is a stay-at-home ordinance?

It is a city law requiring you stay home within certain parameters. The ordinance says it is "imperative for residents and non-residents to shelter at home, unless providing or requiring an essential service." (More on what's essential later.)

It's different from sheltering in place during a hurricane — during a hurricane, you don't want to go outside because of dangerous weather conditions. While the coronavirus is dangerous, going outside is not — at least not in the same way going outside in a hurricane is. The danger lies in spreading the disease to other people, so the city is making sure people stay home and away from others.

Charleston's stay-at-home ordinance expires after 14 days after March 24 when it was signed.

Where is affected?

Only the City of Charleston is under a stay-home order right now. Charleston city limits include downtown as well as areas of West Ashley, James Island, and Johns Island. Charleston County says it is following state guidance, which would include properties in the area that are not within a specific town or city limit.

The ordinance specifically states people should "not travel through or congregate in the streets, sidewalks, waterways and/or public spaces" in Charleston. So cancel your boat party unless you and two friends plan on staying at least 6 feet apart — waterways are included.

What about social distancing?

The ordinance says that when in public, individuals "shall practice social distancing of at least six feet." According to John Hopkins, social distancing is "deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness." Give people a wide berth whenever you leave the house, of at least 6 feet.

Social distancing also means not having physical contact with people if avoidable, and it's always a good idea to wash your hands after interacting with others. You do not have to practice social distancing within your home if everyone is quarantined together.

The point of the ordinance is to put the force of local law behind what you should be doing: social distancing and staying inside.

What businesses are essential?

We wrote more about that yesterday, but basically, anything you can't live without. Some big ones that are essential:
• health care, including doctors and veterinarians
• retail operations, including grocery stores, liquor stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and hardware stores
• news media
• banks
and more.

Can I go to the grocery store?

Yes. Don't buy more than you need and try to reduce the number of trips you take out of the house. If you shop multiple times a week, try to limit the number of trips to once a week. It's safest to shop during off-peak hours and leave plenty of space between you and other shoppers.

Can I go outside? Can I go for a walk or run?

Yes, just remember to use common sense and avoid close contact. According to the ordinance, you should only do activities that allow for social distancing and don't require you to come into close contact or share equipment. So running would be OK, ballroom dancing would have to wait.

What isn't essential?

Specifically deemed not essential are:
• fitness centers and gyms
• retail stores except for essentials (think boutiques, sporting goods stores, etc.)
• entertainment facilities, including music venues, theaters, and museums
• barber shops, hair salons, and day spas
• arts and craft businesses
• recreation facilities, including ice skating rinks and bowling alleys.
and more.

Is there a curfew?

There is not a curfew in Charleston.

Are parks open?

No, parks owned by the City of Charleston are closed until the order is lifted. This includes Hampton Park, Brittlebank Park, Waterfront Park, and White Point Gardens. 

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