Gyms, barbers to reopen; 1,800 contact tracers hired


COLUMBIA (AP) - South Carolina moved closer to fully reopening its economy on Monday as restaurants reopened with restrictions and the state's governor announced that public pools as well as gyms, salons, barbershops and other close-contact businesses can resume operation next week.

Schools will remain closed and other mass gatherings will still be prohibited as the coronavirus pandemic continues, Gov. Henry McMaster said.

Also Monday, health officials said they had retained 1,800 contact tracers, 400 of whom will work under the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and 1,400 of whom will work for private staffing companies.

Contact tracers are a critical part of fighting the virus. They try to find all close contacts of anyone infected by COVID-19 so that those people can isolate themselves or be tested.

Dine-in restaurants reopened Monday with reduced seating and strict sanitation rules. They are limited to eight customers per table, and tables must be 8 feet apart. Chairs and tables must be sanitized after each customer. Condiments such as ketchup or steak sauce are provided only on request and sanitized after each use.

Monday's announcement to allow so-called close-contact businesses to reopen on May 18 appears to be the last reopening step for a while.

There have been 7,792 cases of the coronavirus confirmed in South Carolina, and 346 deaths, according to DHEC's Monday update.

Monday's update included 15 new deaths, including one each in Sumter and Clarendon counties.

Clarendon is now at 27 deaths, Sumter 13.

Also Monday, Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams said she is working on a plan to have individual state agency leaders determine when employees working from home can return to offices.

Under the first phase of a three-step plan, Adams wants to have employees whose jobs need to be done in the office back by June 1.