In the latest bid to get South Carolinians to stay home and curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered law enforcement to disperse gatherings of three or more people.
The order came as state health officials announced 103 new cases of COVID-19, sending the state’s total up to 298. So far, the fast-spreading virus has killed five in South Carolina.
Along with the latest tallies, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reclassified a patient’s county of residence, moving Greenwood County down to two cases of the disease.
While McMaster’s order includes parties on the beach and other such boisterous activities, McMaster said during a Monday briefing that it does not apply to law-abiding businesses, families or schools.
“It is difficult to draw the line,” McMaster said,” but we know it when we see it.”
He also said the order was meant to provide clarity to law enforcement on an existing statute.
During a state of emergency, section 16-7-10(A) of the S.C. Code of Laws makes it illegal to “congregate, unless authorized or in their homes, in groups of three or more and to refuse to disperse upon order of a law enforcement officer.”
The penalty is a fine of up to $100, a prison term of up to 30 days, or both.
In a series of tweets after the announcement, McMaster wrote, “This weekend, we saw large crowds gathered on beaches, on sandbars, and in parking lots. We are facing a dangerous and deadly enemy and this type of behavior is both irresponsible and selfish.”
The move comes after photos of partying beachgoers drew ire on social media. McMaster has previously closed schools and shuttered restaurant dining areas in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, a disease that causes minor symptoms in most people but can lead to serious illness in some, especially the elderly and those with certain underlying health problems.
“And as I said, this is not a shelter-in-place order but another measure aimed at containing the virus by controlling crowds, so that we do not have to shelter in place,” McMaster wrote.