Restaurants can return to 100% capacity soon

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster said Thursday that he will soon lift restrictions that allowed South Carolina restaurants to only fill half their tables because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McMaster didn’t say exactly when he would issue an order allowing full capacity at restaurants. The governor said other restrictions such as requiring masks when not eating and cutting off alcohol sales at 11 p.m. would remain.

“South Carolina is open for business. We never closed,” McMaster said to reporters after a Thursday meeting with military leaders.

McMaster announced the restaurant restrictions two months ago as a summer spike in COVID-19 cases reached its peak.

The rate of new cases has declined significantly from that mid-July peak, but the steady decline stopped in late August. Newly diagnosed cases have been fluctuating since with schools restarting. South Carolina never dipped below the national average.

More than 143,500 people have contracted COVID-19 and 3,200 have died in the state since the pandemic began, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.

Officials reported just 229 new cases Thursday and 197 new cases Wednesday — some of the lowest totals since May. But health officials said the low numbers were the result of work on a new electronic database to report lab results and the only cases they counted were reported by email or fax. The cases typically reported in the database will be added to South Carolina’s totals when the work is done.

The rate of positive tests remained above 10% both days, signs that COVID-19 is still being spread.

Even as he plans to lift restaurant restrictions, the governor Thursday asked the businesses to use common sense and keep as many of their seats outside or in large rooms as possible.

The ban on congregating at bars remains in place too, and McMaster said he has no plans now to increase the allowed attendance at football games and concerts.

McMaster said he continues to weigh a number of factors as he decides what restrictions to keep and which ones to lift.

“There is all kinds of health. There’s mental health. There’s physical health. There’s economic health,” the governor said. “Each is as important as the other.”


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