By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Managing Editor
As the saga of COVID-19 continued, both East Cooper beach towns loosened their restrictions concerning who is welcome to visit the confines of their islands and what activities they can participate in once they arrive.
At a May 8 meeting, the Isle of Palms City Council voted to lift the city’s ban on short-term rentals and do away with the “keep it moving” policy on the beach. Three days later, the Sullivan’s Island Council opted to take down the checkpoints that permitted only residents; property owners; business owners and their employees; and contract workers to enter. The beach remained open only for exercise purposes, however. Groups of more than three people who aren’t members of the same family living in the same household were still prohibited.
The IOP Council voted 8-0 – Susan Smith did not vote because the action might have affected her family’s photography business – to permit sunbathing and other non-exercise-related activities on the beach after receiving assurances from Police Chief Kevin Cornett that residents and visitors were maintaining social distancing.
“Most individuals have done a good job,” Cornett said. “I came across a person in a chair 100 yards away from anyone, and I had to tell her to keep moving. I’ve been very impressed with the people who have come to our beaches and followed the rules.”
“I’ve gotten numerous emails from people who would like to see keep moving removed,” Council Member Rusty Streetman added. “Most people are really disturbed that they can’t go out with a beach chair and do a little sunbathing.”
The IOP Council voted to permit short-term rentals, effective May 13, after a presentation by Douglas Kerr, the city’s director of building, planning and zoning, and Alexander “Sandy” Stone, owner of Island Realty. Kerr and Stone served on a task force established by the Council to study the return of short-term rentals to the island.
The task force’s recommendations received a thumbs up from Dr. Edward O’Bryan of the Medical University of South Carolina, a frequent participant in recent virtual IOP Council meetings.
“The rental regulations are very good. They’re nice and broad,” he commented.
The task force recommendations require managers to inform their guests about social distancing and other practices, such as wearing a face mask, sneezing into a cloth or tissue, using hand sanitizer liberally and avoiding handshakes altogether. Hotels and other short-term rentals must continually clean high-touch surfaces such as countertops, handrails, doorknobs, bathrooms, break rooms and elevators. They also are required to keep a log of who did the cleaning and when and insist that employees handling the cleaning chores wear gloves and face masks. Cleaning tools such as disposable wipes must be provided for visitors to use.
In addition, short-term rentals must ensure adequate air circulation, avoid assigning adjacent rooms to visitors when possible and assemble arrival packets in advance to limit the number of items passed between employees and guests. Keys and key cards must be sanitized between each use, magazines, newspapers, brochures and similar literature must be removed from common areas, and employees checking in guests must wear face masks.
The ordinance establishing these rules is in effect until July 8.
The Sullivan’s Island Town Council opted to eliminate the checkpoints but keep some restrictions on beach activities. Chairs, devices that provide shade, such as umbrellas or tents, and coolers are prohibited, while activities are limited to “running, walking, dog walking, biking, swimming, surfing and other recreational activities consistent with social distancing.”
“We’ve tried to take relatively small steps and see what happens,” Mayor Pat O’Neil commented. “This kind of approach will be consistent with that.”
Council member Tim Reese added that, “We’re taking a measured approach.”