As South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster prepared to announce the end of a coronavirus stay-at-home order, his top staff received an email from the state health department.
The message, highlighted in bold, was clear: Wait longer before allowing customers back inside restaurants, hair salons and other businesses where people will be in close contact.
Instead, McMaster pressed ahead with a plan written by the state restaurant association to resume inside dining on May 11. The guidelines made masks optional for employees and allowed more customers inside than the health agency had advised.
A few days later, the Republican governor opened the doors to salons, fitness centers and swimming pools. He did not wait to gauge the effect of the restaurant reopening on the virus, as public health officials had suggested. Like many states, South Carolina later experienced a surge in infections that forced McMaster to dial back his reopening plan.