Greenville to push 'stay-at-home' law to stem coronavirus; require 6 feet distance and close more businesses
The city of Greenville will forge ahead with its own emergency "stay-at-home" ordinance — one that will require by law people keep a six-foot distance virtually anywhere they go and that will mean even more businesses will have to close.
The City Council will meet in a specially called meeting on Tuesday to vote on the ordinance that's designed to strengthen measures locally to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The ordinance as proposed would go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and would be in effect for two weeks unless extended.
Mayor Knox White told The Greenville News on Monday afternoon that the city believes its added restrictions — which would close "personal services" establishments such as barbershops and nail salons — aren't at odds legally with Gov. Henry McMaster's executive orders.
Last week, the city had intended to pass its own ordinance similar to Charleston and Columbia and some coastal towns — but backed off after state Attorney General Alan Wilson issued an opinion saying such laws leave municipalities under threat of a legal action.
McMaster has yet to order a statewide decree ordering people to stay at home, despite mounting calls to do so.
On Monday, 151 new cases of COVID-19 were reported by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, bringing the total number of cases statewide to 925 across 41 counties. Eighteen have died, and among them was Anderson County's first reported death. Greenville County saw 17 new reported cases Monday.
In the U.S., there were more than 160,000 cases as of Monday afternoon and nearly 3,000 deaths.
"According to the CDC and local public health officials, this is the critical period to stop the virus from spreading," White told The News. "It’s here. A large metro area like Greenville absolutely must double down now to keep the virus under control."
The ordinance, published in draft form this afternoon (see below), allows for people to go out to exercise so long as it can be done with six feet of distance and doesn't involve shared equipment.
Golf courses can stay open. Gyms, dance studios, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment cannot.
Non-essential services not listed as part of the ordinance (see full list of eligible activities) would be allowed but not if they require less than six feet of distance, which makes cutting hair or painting nails impossible.
The ban on dine-in service continues, though take out, curbside and delivery are still allowed.
The ordinance doesn't prevent someone from traveling out of the city for a non-essential purpose.
For more than a week, the mayor has signaled his desire for "personal services" businesses that aren't essential to close but has had not authority to do so absent the governor taking action.
The ordinance would specify that keeping a six foot distance, as suggested by the CDC, is required by law. This would include grocery stores and home improvement stores that have seen a rush of business but have had inconsistent measures to ensure distancing.
"Many people have weighed in over the past days," White said. "None more persuasive than health care professionals, nurses and doctors, who reside in great numbers in our city’s neighborhoods. They need our support and are asking specifically for this kind of action."
The issue of local stay-at-home orders has turned into a political football in the past several days. Urban leaders have begged the governor to enact a statewide order, just as the cities and the state of North Carolina have. Today, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who has the COVID-19 virus, pleaded for McMaster to act.
McMaster has said he believes he has acted adequately to address the spread and based his decisions on science, data and advice of health experts.
The rural areas of the state haven't pushed hard for any stay-at-home orders. Greenville County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said that the governor's actions have sufficed, which he said is seen in the behavior of citizens who have generally followed the governor's direction.
The attorney general's opinion last week sent doubt throughout communities that enacted their own ordinances. Coastal towns like Folly Beach rescinded their measures on Friday for fear of being sued by the state and implored McMaster take action. By Saturday, Folly Beach had reinstated its restrictions after people flocked to the shore.
Columbia and Charleston pledged to forge ahead with their ordinances, which the city of Greenville essentially copied.
On Sunday, Wilson's office issued a clarification stating that while a private citizen could sue a municipality or county, the opinion didn't go so far as to say a local government couldn't continue to enforce ordinances unless a court ordered otherwise.
See the full list of essential businesses here:
Check back for updates on this developing story.
Follow Eric on Twitter @cericconnor