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Gov. Henry McMaster must issue a tough stay-in-place order now to keep the coronavirus from spreading more in South Carolina. He can’t wait any longer.

Such an order will cause huge economic ripples throughout the state’s economy. But school isn’t open for another month. More people are getting sick. If we don’t nip this mess in the bud as much as possible now, the damage will be far, far worse when he is forced to issue an order later.

“I have great faith in the people of South Carolina,” the governor said Thursday. “They follow rules. They’re respectful. They’re courteous. They’re gentle. They’re smart. They’re resilient. The things we have asked them to do, they are doing and doing very well.”

Yes, most South Carolinians are like that. Unfortunately, governor, responding to this disease isn’t about faith. It’s about science. It’s about listening to public health authorities and keeping people apart. A lot of South Carolinians are staying at home voluntarily, but there are far too many still in close contact.

Continuing with a voluntary approach won’t chill the clusters that are developing. Our state needs to go into time-out for two weeks to allow the virus to die down. To do otherwise will create more opportunities for the virus to spread. That must not happen because we don’t want 8,000 infected people in May, as predicted, who infect even more.

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“Health over wealth needs to be the focus, in my opinion,” Greenville political analyst Chip Felkel observed. “We can recover financially. It won’t be easy. It will cause a lot of anxiety and, yes, people will be severely and adversely affected. But they won’t be dead.”

To respond to the crisis, the state legislature should redirect the bulk of a $2 billion surplus into programs to help small businesses stay afloat and hospitals to deal with the caring crisis ahead.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the country, and especially South Carolina,” Felkel said. “A program to help companies meet payroll and stay afloat, not necessarily flourish, would go a long way.”

Frank Knapp, head of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, suggests the state augment a federal infusion of money into small businesses by delaying the filing of state employer payroll taxes.

“There should not be any refund checks sent to taxpayers this year,” he said. “We should be putting every state tax dollar we can into our hospitals to cover their COVID-19 operational costs. We should do this because of the health care needs but also because it will help keep health insurance rates from rising next year.”

Knapp also suggested using federal dollars to expand Medicaid, even if only for a year, because tens of thousands of newly laid-off workers won’t have health insurance or meet federal levels to qualify for health insurance subsidies. So they’ll be out in the cold, further exacerbating an unhealthy environment.

“Lack of health insurance results in unhealthy citizens, which threatens all of us,” Knapp said. “Plus, when the unemployed get sick and go to the emergency room, if they can get in, their uncompensated medical costs will be passed on to everyone else through higher insurance premiums.”

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat whose home area has been hammered by the virus, urged increased testing for the virus so more data were available to make decisions. He also suggested “effective self-quarantine procedures for confirmed cases with minor symptoms supervised by local law enforcement.”

If you want to better understand the terrible toll of coronavirus, we suggest you read the terrifying story of a New York City woman who has been caring for her husband, wracked by the disease.

“Our world became one of isolation, round-the-clock care, panic, and uncertainty — even as society carried on around us with all too few changes,” Jessica Lustig wrote March 24 in The New York Times.

As of Thursday, 22 states had statewide stay-at-home orders. Sooner or later, South Carolina will likely have one too. Let’s do it now so we can move beyond this disease’s crippling health and economic impact sooner.

Andy Brack is the publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.