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Aiken's Barber Shop owner Mark Beachum cuts a customer's hair on the shop's last day open after a call for nonessential businesses to close due to the spread of the coronavirus. Close contact businesses like hair salons are reopening next week as executive orders are lifted by state authorities. 

State authorities announced Monday restrictions that have kept close-contact businesses such as hair salons and gyms closed over a month will officially be lifted next week.

These businesses will be allowed to reopen Monday, May 18, according to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster.

"The guidelines and recommendations on safety and sanitary practices ... are excellent and, if followed, will provide excellent guidance," McMaster said during a press briefing Monday afternoon.

According to McMaster, these guidelines include restrictions to limit the amount of customers in the store by keeping seats open and taking clients by appointment only. 

McMaster said the enforcement of these guidelines will primarily come down to business owners. Law enforcement may also be asked to intervene, McMaster said. 

Chris Hagan, owner of All American Barber Shop, plans to be back in business by 8 a.m. Monday morning.

"I'm relieved,” Hagan said. "We’ve been out of work since mid-March … We’re ready to go back to work."

Hagan said the shop, which closed prior to McMaster’s executive order closing nonessential businesses went into effect, is “absolutely” prepared to handle the challenges COVID-19 may present by increasing the amount of cleaning after each appointment with clients.

"Our profession is very strict as far as sanitation and disinfecting,” Hagan said. "We sterilize our equipment, we sterilize our chairs after each appointment … even before COVID(-19).

"It's serious,” he continued. "I don't want it and bring it home to my family. I don't want you to catch it and bring it home to your family. We recognize that, and we're taking it seriously."

Hagan said the shop will have a table set up outside where clients will have temperature screenings. They will be asked to wait outside or in their vehicles and called in for their turn in the chair to limit the number of people in the building at one time.

Hagan said he has discussed his shop’s plight with state representatives, but he told them he would take extra precautions aside from what DHEC and AccelerateSC asked for.

“We're not just doing all this to comply with the rules,” Hagan said. "It’s personal for us. A lot of our customers are older, we've got a lot of kids and we've got kids in our families ... the last thing we want to do is get you or your families sick or get us and our families sick. It's top priority to keep everyone safe."

The businesses being allowed to reopen include:

• Hair salons.

• Massage parlors.

• Waxing salons.

• Nail salons.

• Tanning salons.

• Tattoo parlors.

• Gyms, yoga and other exercise facilities.

• Spas.

• Public and commercial pools.

McMaster also said state employees can begin returning to their offices once there is "ample" personal protective equipment onsite, but they must return to work no later than June 1.

"We didn't shut down like some other states did, but we did slow down," McMaster said. 

Also Monday, state health authorities confirmed 140 new cases of coronavirus in South Carolina and 15 additional COVID-19 related deaths.

Eleven of those deaths occurred in elderly patients and the remaining four were middle-aged. None of the new deaths were in Aiken County, according to DHEC.

One of the new positive coronavirus cases identified Monday is in Aiken County, which now has a total of 119 confirmed coronavirus cases as of May 11, DHEC said.  

Of those cases, 28 have been confirmed at Aiken Regional Medical Centers, according to a hospital news release.

Two patients have died from coronavirus at Aiken Regional as of May 11, the hospital said. A total of six people have died from coronavirus-related complications in Aiken County since the outbreak began, according to DHEC.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said during Monday's news conference that DHEC plans on increasing testing in underserved communities in the coming months. The agency aims to test 2% of the state's population per month, Bell said.

"Widespread testing is important in every community, because all of us remain at risk of exposure to someone infected with COVID-19," Bell said during Monday's briefing. 

If testing increases, the number of positive coronavirus tests DHEC reports daily will also likely increase, Bell said.

Both private and public labs have conducted over 84,000 coronavirus tests in South Carolina, according to DHEC. Of these tests, nearly 7,800 have been positive. Of those patients who tested positive, 346 have died from COVID-19 related symptoms, according to DHEC.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.