Greenville to make it illegal for businesses to allow customers to break social distancing
The city of Greenville is poised to make it against the law for businesses to allow less than six feet of distance between people, a move the city hopes will slow the spread of the novel coronavirus as customers flock to places like grocery and home improvement stores.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance on Friday that will enact stricter measures than Gov. Henry McMaster has thus far, while also explicitly pleading with the governor to order a 14-day statewide "stay-at-home" declaration as most U.S. states have done.
A key concern, Mayor Knox White told The Greenville News on Thursday, is that some stores the governor deemed essential and able to stay open aren't adequately ensuring social distancing.
"While many businesses the governor allows open are doing an outstanding job managing their customers and employees, there are still too many that are not," White said. "More needs to be done to protect the public."
The fine will be $100 for a violation. If there are repeated violations, the city could revoke business licenses or occupancy permits.
The city's move stops short of mandating people stay at home. City officials believe they can't mandate that without action by the governor.
Calls for a statewide order are coming from other lawmakers, as well.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Neal Collins said that both the CEO of PRISMA Health and its chief expert in the coronavirus epidemic implored lawmakers to urge the governor to act.
"They both stated that this was an unprecedented event & urged us to advocate for stay at home orders to spread out the sick," Collins said post on Twitter.
In that message, Collins said PRISMA's own analytical team has predicted the peak of the virus spread to be three to four weeks from now.
On Tuesday, McMaster ordered nonessential businesses such as beauty salons and indoor entertainment venues to close. The list of businesses allowed to stay open was so broad that his office listed those that aren't considered essential.
If a business has a question about whether it can stay open, the governor ordered that it continue operation while a determination is made.
On Thursday, the Greenville County Council conducted a virtual meeting — its first since March 11 when the 12-member body voted to rescind a 1996 anti-gay resolution — that was limited to giving them the legal right to conduct business virtually.
There were no moves to enact stricter guidelines, such as closing parks, or to request McMaster issue at stay-at-home order.
Councilman Bob Taylor said it's up to citizens to interpret the varying edicts to determine what is appropriate to do.
Council Chairman Butch Kirven said that the council now can conduct meetings to handle regular county business and could take up any coronavirus discussion possibly next week.
The meeting didn't provide for public comment, but the authorization the council passed included a provision that public comment be facilitated by April 15.
As of Wednesday, the total number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is 203,608 with at least 1,083 cases in the state of South Carolina and 106 in Greenville County.
In the city's distancing ordinance, it provides requirements that businesses must implement so long as they don't create "undue hardship."
Among the requirements are to designate spacing requirements with sign or tape, make sanitizing products available for customers and employees, have separate operating hours for elderly and vulnerable customers, make regular announcements or place signage reminding customers and employees of social distancing measures, install protective barriers at check-out counters and allow employees to wear protective masks and gloves.
The ordinance suggests businesses offer alternate shopping methods such as delivery or curbside pickup.
For purposes of this ordinance, “undue hardship” shall mean an action requiring significant difficulty or expense as it relates to the individual business, taking into account the following factors: the nature and cost of the measure at issue, the financial resources of the business, the type of operation of the business, and the impact of the measure on the operation of the business.
The City Council's special meeting will be at 10 a.m. and streamed from their website and Facebook page, and via telephone at 1-415-655-0002, event number 9430.
Anyone wanting to provide public comment in the specially called 10 a.m. meeting can email their comments to email@example.com or leave a voice mail at 864-298-9430 by 9 a.m. the day of the meeting.
Later in the day, at 1 p.m., the city will host a press briefing that includes official from PRISMA and Bon Secours health companies, DHEC, Emergency Management, Greenville Chamber, United Way and the South Carolina Retailers Association.
Read the full ordinance below:
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This story is developing and will be updated.