McMaster speaks at an April 20 press conference in Columbia | ETV screenshot

The straw that broke the camel’s back on South Carolina’s pandemic response for state Sen. Mia McLeod was when Gov. Henry McMaster pushed for students to stay in classrooms five days a week as the virus exploded.

Brack

“We’ve lost teachers and coaches in my district,” the Columbia Democrat said with frustration peppering her talk. “This is impacting our students, who are impacting our parents and grandparents.”

On Dec. 9, McMaster held his first pandemic press conference in three weeks. He urged South Carolinians to “redouble our efforts” to fight the virus as state officials again called for residents to wear masks to protect themselves and others. 

But the governor added, “Parents should not have to choose between their child or their job. But that is what the decision of the school districts who have not gone back to five-day face-to-face education are requiring these parents to do. And it’s not the right thing to do.”.

McLeod

McLeod, who has been quiet in public criticism in recent weeks, said she thought when new cases passed 2,000 per day — and then 3,000 cases — that McMaster would pivot to push stronger action.

“To him hear say the same old lame stuff he’s been saying, it’s obviously not working,” she said. “To have almost 10,000 new cases over a weekend and 114 deaths is mind-boggling.”

In a scathing Dec. 16 letter, McLeod called for the governor to come up with a real plan, not more rhetoric.

“We’re nine months into this deadly pandemic,” she wrote. “COVID-19 exposures are reaching new record highs every day. More and more South Carolinians are dying. Our hospitals are nearing capacity and our fragile healthcare system is on the verge of collapsing. Our healthcare professionals are frustrated and exhausted. More teachers are forced to leave the profession they love. 

“Many employees are lured back into unsafe workplaces with minimal protections and pay. Record numbers of South Carolinians are unemployed … struggling to put food on their tables and keep a roof over their heads. With pandemic unemployment benefits ending this month, hundreds of thousands of our unemployed citizens are feeling hopeless, while we brag about spending almost a billion dollars to keep S.C. employers from having to pay higher unemployment taxes.”

South Carolinians, she said, literally are dying for real leadership to beat the pandemic.

“South Carolinians deserve a government that works together in a bipartisan way to protect and serve them,” McLeod wrote. “We deserve a governor who communicates with candor, owns his mistakes and has the courage to put people above politics.”

What needs to happen isn’t rocket science. But it needs collective leadership from the top down to curb the virus and its deadly 20+ percent positivity rate of those taking tests to see whether they have it.

“As the chief executive officer of our state, I’m simply asking that you act like it,” McLeod wrote in her letter. “Thanksgiving slogans like, ‘Test Before Turkey’ are lame, ineffective and lackadaisical. You have the power to slow the spread, save lives and bolster business:

  1. Issue a statewide mask mandate. 
  2. Reissue temporary occupancy restrictions.
  3. Voluntarily close schools and businesses to help prevent involuntary shutdowns.
  4. Establish and enforce protocols that public health experts recommend.  
  5. Articulate a plan to help stop the bleeding and secure a sustainable path forward.

“We can’t wait on a vaccine to fix this for us.”

Everything about the pandemic is a hot potato, causing many state’s leaders to skitter like roaches when a light is turned on.

The governor’s office, as usual, did not respond to a request for comments. Neither did several Republican and Democratic legislative leaders. 

But McLeod said she’s heard from colleagues.

“A number of them agree this is a train wreck, going nowhere fast.” 

In the letter, she went further, straight for McMaster’s political jugular: “Your gross mishandling of this pandemic is the type of political malpractice that borders on criminality.”

As a state, we must join together — like we did in World War II and after the Sept. 11 attacks — to beat the virus before it kills more of our friends, family and neighbors.

The virus doesn’t care what our elected officials are doing, but we should. We must hold them accountable.

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