More than 10,000 South Carolinians have died in the last year and a half from COVID-19. With the availability of incredibly effective vaccines and the common-sense step of wearing masks in crowded places, we have the tools to win the COVID War.
But too many people will continue to die because too many still aren’t vaccinated and too many get huffy about wearing masks when indoors. They talk about personal freedom instead of respecting community safety. They’re getting played by false Internet memes circulated by Russians and anti-vaxxers, instead of believing cold, hard facts from science. They conveniently forget how the vaccines they got when they were kids kept them from getting horrible diseases like polio, measles, rubella, diphtheria and smallpox.
Vaccines work. Masking works. But South Carolina, like many Southern red states, has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. This forces us to ask: Where is our sense of pride, our sense of dignity? Do we always have to be at the bottom of lists, especially when it’s relatively easy to get our state out of the cellar by getting people vaccinated?
Furthermore, if more people will get vaccinated and get to the top of the list, families throughout the state will be safer. Hospitals will be able to get back to treating people’s regular problems, not a pandemic. If the half of eligible South Carolinians who aren’t vaccinated get the shots, it probably would take just two months to create a safe environment across the state, which would generate a relatively quick return to normal instead of the slow drip of the continuing contagion that is locking down our day-to-day life and business.
People across South Carolina have pride in the state’s beautiful places, football teams, heritage, history, sense of independence and quality of life. Why can’t we have a statewide sense of pride in beating COVID-19? Why can’t everyone pull together, protect their families, protect their neighbors and protect their communities so we can get back to normal? We have the tools.
There’s more. Not only do citizens have a responsibility to get vaccinated, our leaders need to have the courage to lead and get beyond all of the emotional, political rhetoric that has infected common-sense, science-based reasons to get vaccinated and wear masks until things are safer.
We haven’t seen courage from our governor, Henry McMaster. Instead of pulling out all of the stops with campaign rallies in communities across the state to pump up the volume on vaccinations and masks, he makes meek suggestions as more people get the disease.
We also haven’t seen many state legislators pushing statewide safety against the pandemic. Rather, they hunker down too afraid to admit they were wrong to pass an anti-mask mandate which will lead to more school children getting COVID-19 until they can get vaccinated.
About the only leadership on display has come from Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Columbia City Council. Earlier this month, Benjamin issued an emergency declaration requiring masks in most Columbia schools to protect students. On Aug. 11, council members voted 5-1 to approve that order.
That’s leadership. And all of our political leaders, regardless of party, need to be leading now, not hiding behind some poll or anti-science ideology. More cities and counties need to challenge the state’s dumb anti-masking law in court and by ordinance (remember home rule?) to lead our state toward safety from COVID-19.
This disease doesn’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent. It cares whether it can get inside you, infect you and make your life a living hell. But if we get vaccinated — and wear a mask when near others — we can make a quicker return to normal. Let’s get it done, South Carolina.
Andy Brack is publisher of the Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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