MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) — As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in South Carolina and across the country, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held an emergency briefing Thursday to provide updates on the state’s response.
While the governor urged people to get a COVID-19 test ahead of holiday gatherings and announced new testing measures at schools, what wasn’t mentioned was an update on his “Last Call” order. The omission didn’t go unnoticed by many business owners in the Grand Strand, either.
The statewide mandate has been in effect since July 11, prohibiting restaurants and bars from serving alcohol after 11 p.m.
McMaster said the purpose of the order was to discourage young adults from congregating at bars, which he said would in turn prohibit that group from spreading COVID-19 to populations vulnerable to the virus.
Some businesses say the mandate has been hurting their pockets and they were hoping to at least find out if the order would be lifted before New Year’s Day.
Darren Barfield, who owns Barfield’s Bar and Grill in Myrtle Beach, said many businesses have been operating for a little over a year. He estimates his business is losing close to $2,500 a night from missing out on alcohol sales after 11 p.m. and he says it’s starting to add up.
“[Lifting the order], it would help my family a whole lot because I have young kids and we barely making ends now,” said Barfield. “I would really like to work after 11 p.m.”
Aaron Gifford, a co-owner of Atlas Tap House, said many of his customers are in the service industry. He added those customers would normally visit his business around the 11 p.m. hour and feels the order is punishing hard-working businesses during a time they need the funds the most.
Gifford says he’s disappointed that nothing was said about lifting the order with nearly six weeks away until New Year’s Day.
“The whole principle around New Year’s is being able to celebrate at that 12 o’clock hour,” Gifford said. “Not being able to be open [fully past 11 p.m.] would pretty much take away anyone wanting to come out earlier.”
Bobby Williams, chairman of the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said he’s been in contact with the governor’s office about the order. Williams said he heard talk about the mandate possibly being lifted soon, but something changed.
“Three weeks ago, it was [said lifting the order], that will not be a problem [around New Year’s],” he said. “Now with this increase in cases, hopefully by New Year’s they will give us some sort of [timeline].”
Williams is encouraging bar and restaurant owners to hang on until things get a bit better.
“I was hoping there would be a brighter light at the end of the tunnel but we got a flashlight right now,” he said.
Some businesses referenced how the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control provided data to showed masks were helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. Business owners also said they want to see the data McMaster has repeatedly referenced stating the order is effective.
WMBF News has reached out to the governor’s office requesting that data.