McMaster shuts off late-night boozing in effort to stem SC virus outbreak

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COLUMBIA — In an effort to stem South Carolina's raging coronavirus outbreak, particularly among young adults he says are gathering in unsafe groupings, Gov. Henry McMaster is shutting off the late-night sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants across the state.

McMaster on Friday said that, starting on Saturday, the 8,000 bars and restaurants across the state licensed to sell alcoholic beverages would have to shut off those sales at 11 p.m. each night.

"We are saying emphatically, it's time for our younger adults to behave like mature adults," McMaster said, noting that, while younger people may not get seriously ill from the virus, they could spread it to more vulnerable, older adults. "This is very serious. Wear your mask. Keep that distance."

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

McMaster's move comes less than a week than a deadly shooting at a Greenville nightclub, where two people were killed and eight others injured. Greenville County Sheriff Hobart Lewis said a "very large crowd" of about 200 people were at the Lavish Lounge on Sunday to see trap rapper Foogiano, an event that went against South Carolina gathering orders due to the pandemic.

"That club should not have been opened," McMaster said Friday, asked if the violence prompted his move.

Director of Public Health Joan Duwve said Friday that the 11,090 confirmed positive tests in South Carolinians between the ages of 21 and 30 represent 22% of the state's total. Since June 1, she said, the number of confirmed cases in that age group has gone up more than 436%.

"The ages of people who are dying remain predominantly of those who are 65 years of age or older," Duwve said. "If we all work together now, in six weeks, we will be a healthier, safer South Carolina."

State health officials said South Carolina has recorded more than 52,000 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, reporting 1,725 new confirmed cases and 26 additional confirmed deaths on Friday. Thus far, 52,273 cases have been confirmed, and 922 in the state have died.

Two of the deaths announced Friday were Sumter County residents, bringing the countywide death toll to 28. Sumter has had 1,311 residents test positive for the virus.

Duwve noted that, in the past two weeks alone, South Carolina has tallied 42% of its total number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

As the state, along with others, struggles to balance economic and health concerns in the continuing outbreak, McMaster and other state leaders have repeatedly indicated they would not reshutter the economy after businesses began reopening earlier this year. Asked Friday if the state's skyrocketing confirmed case numbers — hospitalizations are also increasing toward capacity — are evidence that South Carolina began reopening too early, McMaster again said shutting the economy back down isn't an option.

"We're not going back and closing businesses," he said. "We cannot do it."