COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Fans can watch September's NASCAR race at Darlington in person and have a four-course meal while watching a medieval jousting tournament thanks to exceptions granted to South Carolina's rule banning gatherings of more than 250 people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 71 events have been given permission to draw the larger crowds, according to the South Carolina Department of Commerce, which reviews the requests.
Some are mutliday versions of the same event or concerts. Some are shows at Myrtle Beach like the Medieval Times dinner and jousting competition. There are sporting tournaments for children and the Showstopper Dance Competition. A bridal expo in Florence is a go, as well as the South Carolina Farm Bureau's annual meeting.
Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the ban on gatherings of up to 250 people on Aug. 3, but allowed anyone who wanted to have more people to ask the state's business agency for an exception. The Commerce Department requires any group with a large gathering to require masks and detail other ways they can keep the crowd safe from COVID-19.
The agency said it also consults health officials.
The Southern 500 NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway is the only large scale sporting event given permission to have fans so far. The track hosted NASCAR's first race after the pandemic in May with no one in the stands. College football teams also expect to ask to bring in at least some fans for games starting next month.
The list was first reported by The Post and Courier of Charleston.
The larger crowds come as South Carolina's COVID-19 outbreak appears to have ended nearly two months of rapid spread.
The virus hasn't stopped — there were 1,265 newly diagnosed cases Friday, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Before June 19, the state had never reported more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases in a day. Since then, they have reported less than 1,000 cases just three days.
South Carolina should top 100,000 people infected with the virus in the next two to three days. Health officials report 1,883 people died and the state's seven-day average of more than 39 deaths a day is the sixth-highest rate in the country.
But state health officials said the downward trend of new cases is a good sign.
“The biggest contributing factors are likely people doing social distancing and wearing the masks," said Dr. Brannon Traxler, a medical consultant with DHEC.
South Carolina's governor never approved a statewide mask rule, although McMaster did recently require them in restaurants and bars. Many local governments did pass their own rules with the governor's blessing and Traxler said health officials plan to issue a report next week about how they impacted the spread of COVID-19.
But South Carolina is still far from controlling the virus. Over the past 14 days, an average of more than 1,315 people daily have been infected with COVID-19. That is nearly five times the rate from June 1.
Traxler asked people to keep wearing masks, especially as these large events are allowed and some schools reopen later this month.
“While we are not near the finish line our trend shows what we are doing is having an impact and we need to stay the course together,” Traxler said.
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