McMaster says SC gyms, salons, barbershops, pools can reopen next week

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Henry McMaster is continuing to lift restrictions initially put in place to stem the coronavirus outbreak and promising to soon discuss reopening other businesses.

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On Monday, McMaster announced that close contact service providers, fitness and exercise centers, commercial gyms, and public or commercial pools will be able to open in a limited capacity on Monday, May 18.

Close contact service providers include the following businesses:

  • Barbershops
  • Hair salons
  • Waxing salons
  • Threading salons
  • Nail salons and spas
  • Body-art facilities and tattoo services
  • Tanning salons
  • Massage-therapy establishments and massage services

Commercial gyms will include group exercise facilities such as yoga studios, barre classes, and others.

“With our increased capacity for testing the people of our state, it is time to responsibly and gradually get these small businesses back up and running,” said McMaster. “We have an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world by reinvigorating our economy while staying safe, but we can only do that if South Carolinians continue to follow the advice and recommendations of our public health experts.”

The governor’s announcement comes following nearly three weeks of accelerateSC meeting, in part, for the purpose of developing guidelines for operations that each of these businesses are expected to follow, if and when they choose to open.

The “Response” component of accelerateSC, with advice and recommendations from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), have developed general guidelines for close contact service providers, along with specific guidelines for cosmetology establishments, gyms and fitness centers, and public or commercial pools.

These guidelines include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Guidance on social distancing within businesses, including recommended capacity requirements
  • Additional cleaning and sanitizing guidelines for equipment, tables, chairs, etc.
  • Additional guidance on health checks for employees
  • Additional guidance on training for employees

“It's been very difficult, and I think everyone's so unsure of what the future holds," said Nichole Reid, who owns Bella Cole Salon in Rock Hill.

It's been quiet at the salon since they closed in March, believing they'd be back soon.

"We thought we'd be back in a couple weeks, and then it set in: ‘Wow. we're not gonna be back. How are we gonna feed our families? Are we gonna have a business left?’” Reid told Channel 9.

Hundreds of appointments were lost as they waited while other businesses were eventually reopened. Now, the governor has set the date for hair salons, nail salons and gyms to turn the lights back on.

"I feel the small businesses need to get back, if the right precautions are taken, and everybody's wearing protective masks as we were," Reid said.

Stacy Loflin-Fann, a nurse, told Channel 9 she's torn.

"I think it's time for us to try to move forward, but at the same time I have my own fears about it too," she said.

There was an obvious difference of opinion over grouping gyms in with salons. People told us that as gyms reopen, they won't be going back right away.

"You can just go to the park, you can go outside, you can run, you can do pushups. So, I don't think the gyms are as essential," one person said.

When Channel 9 asked business owners about reopening, they were clear. Their income has been drained away -- their savings too in some cases -- and not just theirs, but their employees as well. Many have pushed the governor and their representatives to move forward.

Allowing so-called close contact businesses to open their doors again on May 18 appears to be the last reopening step for a while. Also on Monday, state health officials said 1,800 people have been hired to be contact tracers to find people in contact with infected patients.

Indoor dining resumes in South Carolina

The governor said Friday that restaurants could open starting Monday for indoor dining as long as they keep patrons to 50% occupancy, place tables 6 to 8 feet apart, follow strict cleaning and sanitizing guidelines and perform health checks for employees.

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Those include keeping hand sanitizer at entrances and removing previously shared condiments from tables.

Social distancing should also be in place for employees and customers.

These guidelines are from the state and South Carolina’s Restaurant and Lodging Association. Bobby Williams, the association’s chairman, said his organization took lessons from other parts of the county.

“The ones that have 25% they’re actually just losing money. So at 50%, we can be safe and maybe squeak out a small profit," Williams said. “Right now, I have 100% of an empty dining room, so if you allow me 50% we’re cool with it.”

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Restaurant owner Dan Holmes said he was anticipating this next step but admits he was surprised to hear the news so soon.

“We were prepared, and we have been talking about it and looking forward to it," he said.

Holmes said his four restaurants are ready to reopen for indoor seating.

“We took last Sunday actually, and we rented a giant Uhaul and pulled out half of our furniture out of all our restaurants and put it in storage," he said.

There are some restaurant owners and customers who do think it’s too soon to allow indoor seating.

Channel 9 spoke to some customers picking up takeout who said they think the state should wait until virus cases are on the decline.

“It just depends on the consumer. Are they still more comfortable waiting in the car for it? Are they more comfortable sitting outside? Are they comfortable dining in? There’s a lot of options and I think options are healthy right now," said a customer.

Restaurants also have the option to open indoor seating, but don’t have to if they don’t feel comfortable yet.

Restaurants were allowed to open for limited outdoor dining last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.