South Carolina’s restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol after 11 p.m. starting Monday after Gov. Henry McMaster lifted his months-long rule aimed at reducing the COVID-19 spread in the state.
McMaster also lifted a rule that prevents events from having more than 250 people unless the Department of Commerce grants an exemption.
McMaster first put the alcohol restriction in place in July to slow the virus’ spread of COVID-19, targeting particularly younger consumers. People between the ages of 21 and 40 make up more than 30% of South Carolinians who have been diagnosed with the virus, according to the state’s health department.
But as the number of COVID-19 cases have dropped below 1,000 per day and the percent positive — which shows what proportion of tests are coming back positive for the virus — the business community have put pressure on McMaster to lift the restrictions.
And since he put the order in place, South Carolina has received thousands of doses in COVID-19 vaccines.
On Dec. 17, the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association used a report from New York that showed restaurants were only responsible for about 1.4% of COVID-19 transmission, while the majority of spread comes from social gatherings or households.
“We continue to support aggressive steps to protect our state’s public health, but there is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem,” the association said then. “Restaurants provide a safe environment, adhering to Restaurant Reopening Guidelines set forth by AccelerateSC and public health officials.”
As a result of the “inconsistent, restrictive mandates,” the association said their industry has suffered.
Still, McMaster extended the alcohol sales restriction in his emergency order on Dec. 24.
McMaster lifted restrictions on restaurant capacities in October and loosened rules on spacing between tables and seating limitations.
However, though new cases have dropped in recent weeks, cases and hospitalizations remain high across the country, said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a Friday news conference.
Walensky said she has concerns of the COVID-19 variants popping up, adding time is needed to make sure more people get a vaccine.
“Things are tenuous,” Walensky said. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”
This is a developing story. This article will be updated.