Beaufort County officials debate local, state lockdowns

Coronavirus

BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) — Beaufort County’s top law enforcement official met with other local leaders Friday to discuss their combined COVID-19 response along with one big topic up for debate: a shelter in place resolution.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday held his own media briefing and issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors coming from “hot spots” but stopped short of calling any stay orders.

Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Beaufort are among those pushing for the governor to mandate a statewide lockdown. In fact, Hilton Head leaders have said they may enact their own ordinance if McMaster does not respond.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, however, said his deputies are already busy enforcing the governor’s orders — keeping people off the beaches and limiting crowd sizes.

The sheriff said he cannot support or enforce any local resolutions to make its citizens shelter in place because that would conflict with McMaster’s mandate.

“Look, be thinking about everything you can do for your community and do everything you possibly can to carry that out,” Tanner said. “But at the same time let’s not start creating municipal laws and county laws that will conflict with that executive order because that executive order is my responsibility to include all law enforcement in South Carolina.”

And not all of the county is on board with a lockdown.

Yemassee and Hardeeville, seated in both Jasper and Beaufort counties, do not support the notion.

Though town officials in Yemassee passed a local state of emergency on Friday, the clerk said “a resolution encouraging the governor to issue a shelter in place order for a period to be determined by SC DHEC…failed with no second.”

Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said he’s concerned that if other towns and cities issue their own shelter resolutions, many that travel to Beaufort County for work would be at a loss.

“Our residents who are not high earners need to continue to work to feed their families,” he said. “They may be below the poverty line and if they didn’t pay taxes then they won’t get the same level of assistance as someone who did pay taxes.”

Williams continued: “that small level of assistance will not last very long.”

Beaufort County has already passed an ordinance declaring a public health emergency related to COVID-19, in effect until Friday, May 15 or until conditions have subsided.

As of Friday, at least 35 coronavirus cases have been reported in the county by the state.

Watch Friday’s full press conference below with local leaders and the president of Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

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