COLUMBIA — Concert halls, theaters and stadiums in South Carolina can reopen to a limited number of people starting Monday, when restaurants and bars can be punished for failing to follow safety rules, Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday.
The Republican governor also announced a mask mandate in all state buildings, beginning Aug. 5, and called on more city and county governments to pass their own requirements for face coverings. He still stopped short of a statewide mandate, saying it must come from local leaders because “one size does not fit all.”
Nearly half of the state’s population is already under local mask ordinances, enacted by 80 local governments.
McMaster has pleaded for South Carolinians to wear masks but repeatedly declined to make it mandatory as COVID-19 cases climbed, calling it unenforceable. Asking local officials to pass their own — a change from passively saying it’s OK — should fill in the gaps, he said, rattling off a list of national retailers, pharmacies and groceries already requiring masks in all of their South Carolina stores.
He also emphatically told local authorities to enforce all restrictions, a stronger stance than his office has previously taken in saying they can if they want to, through power allowed in his emergency declarations.
“I want city councils, county councils and everyone in between to know” of the directive, he said, adding state law enforcement and regulatory officials can’t do it alone. “This is not an air war. This is a ground war. We need thousands of troops if it gets to that.”
The head of the state’s municipal association said a statewide mask mandate is still needed.
Venues newly allowed to reopen to customers include movie theaters, auditoriums, stadiums and performing arts centers. Those represent the last of the business restrictions not rolled back two months ago. However, they must keep capacity at 50 percent or 250 people, whichever is less.
“There will be more businesses open and operating safely than today,” McMaster said.
But stadiums, festivals, racetracks and other places of mass gatherings can get an exception to the 50 percent occupancy rule if they can get a waiver from the Department of Commerce after proving they can safely accommodate more people. That could open the door for fans at college football at the University of South Carolina or Clemson University, or at high school football games.
“Everybody wants football and a lot of other things,” he said, and they can happen in a scaled-back scenario if organizers “go to Commerce, explain your plan, how you’re going to do it, promise you’re going to, and if you don’t, you’ll be in trouble.
“We want those things to happen,” he said. “It’s a great part of South Carolina life, but we can’t go back to normal yet.”
Outdoor events — such as Soda City Market held on Saturdays in downtown Columbia — which have already resumed will need to get the official nod of approval from Commerce, McMaster said.
Recommended restrictions from the White House’s COVID-19 task force go further than McMaster’s willing. They include closing down — not reopening — places of mass gatherings and late-night entertainment.