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SC reopening group finishes work; jobless claims remain high

The committee assigned by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to plan to reopen the state after the initial spread of the coronavirus and figure out how to spend $1.9 billion in federal money finished its work Thursday.
Accelerate SC submitted its 50-page report with 42 recommendations that include how people can protect themselves with masks, social distancing and hand-washing, a request that lawmakers temporarily give local governments more freedom on how they can spend hotel and restaurant taxes and a suggestion South Carolina create its own stockpile of protective equipment for future pandemics.
“COVID-19 does remain a big threat to our state and our community. It is important we let people know they can lives their lives in safe and productive ways,” Accelerate SC Executive Director James Burns told his group of about 30 business, education and government leaders.
As the reopening committee winds down its work, South Carolina’s response is far from over. Many members worry the economy could continue to struggle because consumers feel the risk to their health is too great to return to tourist attractions or restaurants or they are saving because of the economic crisis.
In South Carolina, 24,950 people filed unemployment claims for the week ending May 23, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.
That’s the least number of claims in a week since the pandemic shutdown started 10 weeks ago. But since 2000, only three weeks outside the shutdown — in January 2001, 2002 and 2003 immediately after big hiring booms for Christmas — have seen more than 25,000 claims in a week,
In the past 10 weeks of the pandemic, more than 540,000 people have filed for jobless benefits and the state has paid $1.5 billion.
McMaster formed Accelerate SC five weeks ago. The panel has provided recommendations on how to get restaurants, barber shops and other businesses reopened.
One key component of the group’s work is how South Carolina should spend $1.9 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. Several suggestions have already been made, including $500 million to replenish the unemployment trust fund, $100 million to expand broadband internet access, $250 million to help out public and private hospitals; and more than $100 million for summer instruction to help some students catch up on lost skills.
McMaster will review the spending ideas and then submit the committee’s report along with his notes and additional details on how he thinks the federal money should be spent to the General Assembly, likely next week.
Lawmakers plan to return in mid-June to debate and approve the spending plan. They probably will take up a few other items, including a bill that could eliminate liability for businesses sued over COVID-19 problems if they follow safety guidelines.
The governor also signed another 15-day state of emergency for the virus late Wednesday in part to assure federal money can continue to be spent in the state.
Most of South Carolina has been reopened. Bowling alleys, sporting events and concerts remain closed. McMaster said his staff and Accelerate SC is working on guidelines for those establishments.
Nearly 10,800 people in South Carolina had tested positive for the coronavirus with at least 470 deaths, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said in its Thursday update.
South Carolina set a record with 20 COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday and the highest seven-day average of new cases at 209. Health officials have greatly increased the number of tests and said it is too early to tell if the increase in deaths was a one-day outlier or an indication of an increase in the spread of the disease.
McMaster took a longer view Thursday, saying South Carolina’s 28-day averages, which Thursday stretched back to the day he announced he would end the stay-at-home order, are a better judge of COVID-19 trends.
“We are satisfied with the trends,” McMaster said Thursday. “Look at the 28-day. This virus is going to be we us for a long time.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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