Popular SC beaches opt to stay closed amid outbreak concerns

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s been more than a week since South Carolina beach towns were allowed to begin opening back up, but some are still opting to stay shuttered due to concerns amid the coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday, officials on Sullivan’s Island voted to keep police checkpoints in place for another two weeks in order to restrict non-residents from accessing the beach.

A day earlier, Folly Beach City Council members voted to keep public access restrictions to the beach near Charleston in place until May 6, with plans to discuss the issue again later this week and “allow more data and study,” according to a post on the city’s Facebook page.

As part of a gradual issuance of executive orders shutting down recreation areas and nonessential businesses in the state as the outbreak spread, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered all public beach access closed March 30, while people with property on the beach could still enjoy the sand and water. He rescinded that order about three weeks later, leaving the decision on public access points up to local governments.

Folly Beach, a popular beach destination both for tourists and Charleston-area locals, originally banned beach access March 20. Officials briefly halted the ban a week later following a non-binding opinion from Attorney General Alan Wilson that said only the governor, not municipalities, could make such restrictions.

With McMaster’s beach order last week, some coastal mayors and other leaders enthusiastically began telling people to soak in the sun while being careful and continuing coronavirus precautions like social distancing. People flocked immediately to some beaches, with a SCETV camera capturing dozens of people sunbathing at Surfside Beach, south of Myrtle Beach, early last week.

Mayor Marilyn Hatley said North Myrtle Beach didn’t hesitate to open its beaches back up to the public, so “people can enjoy some much-needed sun and recreation along our nine miles of beach,” as long as they were responsible by staying 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

But other beach towns took a more cautious approach, citing federal guidelines for determining whether the spread of the virus had slowed that have not yet been met in South Carolina.

More than 5,800 COVID-19 cases and at least 232 deaths have been reported statewide, according to an update Wednesday from state public health officials.

For most people, the coronavirus behind the pandemic causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.

The continuing beach debate comes less than a month ahead of Memorial Day, the unofficial start to the summer beach season in the coastal state. With about half of the state’s hotels still shuttered, tourism officials have predicted that revenue from South Carolina’s multibillion-dollar economic driver will be cut in half this year, due to the pandemic.

McMaster, who has said his goal is to have the South Carolina economy “humming” again by June, has already begun to loosen the restrictions that have shuttered portions of the state’s business community for weeks, despite extending the state’s emergency declaration on Monday. Last week, he said some businesses previously deemed nonessential — department stores, flea markets, florists, bookstores and music shops — would be allowed to reopen.

An official stay-at-home order remains in place, although that mandate already allowed the patronage of essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, home improvement stores and medical facilities, as well as thousands of others that received waivers from state officials.

Categories: State