CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said he plans to propose an ordinance at Tuesday night’s city council meeting to temporarily close non-essential businesses and direct citizens to stay at home for 14 days.
“But with yesterday’s announcement that the Covid-19 pandemic has officially reached the acceleration phase in our our state, we must now take even more dramatic action, while there’s still time to save thousands of lives right here in Charleston by flattening the curve," Tecklenburg said at a news briefing Tuesday.
He said he has ordered the temporary closure of all city parks and playgrounds in addition to city government buildings, but pledged all essential city services will continue.
The “stay at home” ordinance he is proposing would require the closing of “non-essential businesses” and would "direct citizens to stay at home except for necessary trips to the grocery store, the pharmacy or for other essential activities.”
“This action would last for a period of 14 days, and would be taken under the city’s broad emergency authority to protect public health and safety during times of emergency,” he said.
The mayor cited three reasons for the timing of the ordinance.
First, DHEC’s announcement of the pandemic moving to the “acceleration stage,” he said, means there is “significant community spread, and that we’ve entered the period of maximum danger for our citizens, with infection rates and deaths due to this disease set to rise exponentially.”
He also cited population density.
“Three of the four largest cities in our state sit side by side here in the Lowcountry, with a total population in the hundreds of thousands,” he said. “We cannot and must not allow this deadly, highly contagious disease to spread uncontrolled among our residents.”
The third reason, he said, is based on projections about the virus’ spread.
“Modeling at both Columbia University and here locally shows that Charleston is facing thousands of deaths -- most of them unnecessary -- if we don’t stop the spread of this virus and prevent our local hospital system from being overwhelmed right now,” he said. “This moment -- with the pandemic still in the earliest part of the acceleration phase -- is our last, best chance to keep that tragedy from happening here in our city.”
The text of the ordinance does not specify which businesses are “non-essential,” but it does list 11 classes of businesses listed as “essential:"
- Essential health care operations: Including research and lab services, hospitals, walk-in-care health facilities, veterinary and livestock services, elder care, medical wholesale and distribution, home health care workers or aides, doctor and emergency dental, nursing homes, or residential health care facilities or congregate care facilities, medical supplies and equipment manufacturers and providers.
- Essential infrastructure operations: Including utilities (including power generation, fuel supply and transmission, public water and wastewater, telecommunications and data centers, airports/airlines, transportation infrastructure (such as bus, rail, or for-hire vehicles, garages, hotels and places of accommodation, the South Carolina Port Authority).
- Essential manufacturing operations: Including food processing, manufacturing agents, (including all foods and beverages, chemicals medical equipment/instruments, pharmaceuticals, sanitary products, telecommunications, microelectronics/semi-conductor, agriculture/farms, household paper products, vehicle and aircraft manufacturing.
- Essential retail operations: Including grocery stores and all food and beverage stores, big box stores or wholesale clubs that have in-house grocery or pharmacy services, pharmacies, convenience stores, direct farm-to-consumer sales, gas stations, restaurants/bars (but only for take-out or delivery), hardware and building material stores and online retailers that deliver products and services to individuals’s homes or businesses.
- Other essential service operations: Including garbage, trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal; mail and shipping services, laundromats and dry cleaning, building cleaning and maintenance, child care services, warehouse/distribution and fulfillment, funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries; storage for essential businesses, animal shelters, educational institutions for purposes of facilitating distance learning, performing critical research or performing essential functions.
- News media.
- Financial institutions and professional services operations: including banks, credit unions and check cashing services, insurance, payroll, accounting, services related to financial markets and legal services.
- Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations: Including homeless shelters and congregate care facilities, food banks, human services providers whose function includes the direct care of patients in state-licensed or funded voluntary programs, the care, protection, custody and oversight of individuals both in the community and in state-licensed residential facilities; those operating community shelters and other critical human services agencies providing direct care or support.
- Construction: Including skilled trades such as electricians, plumbers, other related construction firms and professionals for essential infrastructure or for emergency repair and safety purposes, other construction where the contractor can ensure social distancing.
- Defense operations: Including defense and national security-related operations supporting the U.S. government or a contractor to the U.S. government.
- Essential services necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences or other essential businesses: Including law enforcement, fire prevention and response; building code enforcement, security, emergency management and response; building cleaners or janitors, general maintenance whether employed by the entity directly or a vendor, automotive repair, disinfection mail, post shipping, logistics, delivery and pick-up services.
Charleston City Council meets Tuesday at 5 p.m.
If the ordinance passes, it would take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and stay in effect for 14 days, which would take it through April 9.
As of Monday afternoon, South Carolina was reporting 298 cases of COVID-19.
Charleston County accounted for 31 of those cases, placing it tied with Greenville County as the third-hardest hit behind Kershaw, at 54; and Richland, at 43.
Beaufort County listed 21 cases, Berkeley County reported four, Dorchester and Georgetown reported two cases each and Colleton County reported one case.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.