Greenville bans dining inside restaurants and bars in effort to slow coronavirus
The move to ban dining and drinking inside restaurants, bars and breweries to stem the spread of COVID-19 took wing Tuesday across South Carolina — first in an emergency order by the city of Greenville's mayor and followed by a declaration by Gov. Henry McMaster.
The governor's order supersedes the mayoral emergency order, but both are essentially the same and will allow for take-out, curbside and drive-through service. The ban is effective at end of business today.
“This was inevitable but also necessary," Greenville Mayor Knox White told The Greenville News in an interview shortly after the declaration that will include other measures and a full vote by the City Council tomorrow before it expires in 24 hours.
Restaurant warns recent customers:SC restaurant tells customers who experience coronavirus symptoms to see doctor
The council's emergency ordinance will propose the dining ban be in effect for at least 60 days. The emergency order also suspends permits on public events into May 10 - which is Artisphere weekend - and halts eviction orders.
The mayor said the time frame will be clarified on Wednesday and that the city wants it to be as short as possible.
McMaster's statewide order also allows for curbside and drive-thru service.
"We are asking people to stick together and understand we're in a crisis," McMaster said in a late-afternoon press briefing Tuesday afternoon.
"Social distancing is the absolute right strategy according to public health officials," White said. "Local leaders have the power to influence citizens, and we must limit person-to-person interaction. We must take action that’s proven to be effective in prevention.”
Kristina Murphy at the Larkin's restaurant group said they were already in the process of developing a food pickup menu Tuesday in anticipation of the dinning rooms being closed. Murphy said managers have had meetings daily with employees to keep them apprised of the situation and have "had a lot of hard conversations the last few days."
"We are looking at the community to support us in pickup and delivery so we can keep some of our employees going," Murphy said. "We want to be able to feed anybody who has to work in these crazy times."
States across the country have closed indoor dining.
During a daily briefing earlier this week, President Donald Trump urged Americans to gather in numbers of no more than 10, a reduction from the CDC recommendation of 50. The president's declaration stopped short of requiring the limit by law.
Greenville's declaration on Tuesday was in consultation with the hospitality industry and health professionals.
“I’d encourage all businesses, including restaurants, to limit entry to the facility to mandatory employees," said Prisma Health physician Dr. Eric Ossmann. "They must keep a safe distance from their co-workers and model impeccable hygiene. If an employee arrives sick, send them home and require them to be symptom-free for three days before returning."
Carl Sobocinski, founder and president of Table 301 Restaurant Group, had been following the possibility of limits on gatherings in restaurants and bars closely over the past few weeks, and his team had developed several strategies to face the challenges of empty restaurants. The group has rolled out to-go menus at all of its restaurants and is working with the city to designate parking spaces for to-go pickups.
“We respect and understand the difficult decision that city officials had to make at this time," Sobocinski said. "Ensuring public safety is our top priority, but we are also trying to take care of our own and make sure that our employees who need it most continue to have an income for the foreseeable future."
Larkin's will hold all of its 350 employees’ jobs for them and plans to hire them back as soon as restaurants can re-open, said Larkin Hammond, the group's founder. They are also providing some mental health benefits.
"Did I want it some way different? Yes," Hammond said. "But (the mayor) had to do what’s best for his community. You can’t just separate us and say this is good for you and this isn’t good for you. He has a mighty task ahead of him now. We are hoping and praying this shutting down works and stops it and we can go back as soon as we can to our normal lives."
The mayor also moved to provide some limited relief to the hospitality industry by deferring payments for all new business license applications for 60 days, and he announced the creation of an online resource guide.
The “Connecting Our Community” Resource Guide is a city-hosted webpage that allows local businesses to share deals, promotions or new offerings with residents. If a city of Greenville business or organization is offering a service (take-out, delivery, online sales, restricted shopping hours for seniors) or a discount (free meals for children, donated meals to charity in exchange for purchase) to help the community good, they are asked to complete a form.
“Understanding that the hospitality industry is dedicated to the care of others and seeing the hardships already experienced by a loss of customers, the city of Greenville will also provide support for local businesses,” White said.
In Charleston on Monday, the City Council met via telephone to enact a state of emergency that enforces a 50-person limit beyond restaurants and bars to include entertainment venues, bowling alleys, arcades, gyms, fitness centers and houses of worship, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
Follow Eric on Twitter @cericconnor