McMaster also loosed restrictions on public access to South Carolina beaches and waterways, leaving it up to local jurisdictions.
The moves come even as the state’s coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin Mayor Stephen Benjamin pointed out Tuesday. The Democratic mayor told CNN that he’s been “operating on the other side” of the governor’s approach, focusing on data indicators, “not arbitrary dates.”
“When you should go back to business is when you have some true indicators over two weeks that show a deceleration of the pandemic,” Benjamin said, referring to one of the White House’s criteria in its multi-phase guidelines for reopening state economies.
“We need more testing. We need more data, and then we can decide how we go back into business,” Benjamin continued. “But the challenge we’re seeing is in places like Florida and Georgia, and yes, even here in South Carolina, is there is not that dialogue that is data-focused.”
As Benjamin alluded, Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, has been even bolder in his moves to reopen the state’s businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic. Bowling alleys, gyms, hair and nail salons will be allowed to reopen beginning Friday, as long as business owners adhere to social distancing and hygiene guidelines. Starting next week, movie theaters can reopen and restaurants will be allowed to return to limited dine-in service.
Democratic mayors in the state have condemned the governor’s orders. Athens-Clarke County, Georgia Mayor Kelly Girtz told CNN Tuesday that he was urging his constituents not to follow the governor’s advice for reopening.
“I’m exhorting everybody in this community to continue to shelter in place. Do not reopen at this point. It’s not the time to do it,” Girtz said. “It’s like telling the quarterback, ‘We don’t have a helmet for you, we don’t have pads, but get out there on the field and just try not to get sacked.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson noted on CNN Monday that the city has yet to see a 14-day decline as the virus continues to infect and kill residents throughout the state.
“I’m beyond disturbed,” he said. “In my mind, this is reckless, it’s premature and it’s dangerous. It’s not based in any type of science of best practices.”
Other Republican governors in states like Texas and Florida are beginning to issue reopening plans, setting off similar alarms among local Democrats, who worry the moves may be too ambitious.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor held a join virtual news conference on Monday to call on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to listen to the science and to be aware of how the virus is affecting different regions across the state. Kriseman said he would rather the state take more time before reopening because in the long-term, Florida will be “better off.”
Added Castor: “If we go out too quickly, and we end up further back than where we started, I mean can you imagine what that will do? … I just hope and pray that we’re not going to be used as the canary in the coal mine here.”
Local leaders in Texas echoed the same warnings after Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans last week to loosen surgery restrictions at medical facilities, allow retail stores to provide product pickups and reopen state parks,
When it comes to coronavirus testing, “we’re not there yet,” Plano Texas Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said in an interview with WFAA, a local ABC affiliate. “I think, to me, that’s the crucial turning point before things can move forward”