Headed our way for weeks has been a coronavirus surge, a sleeping tiger waiting to pounce its fertile spread as weather cools and people stay inside more.
Infection rates across the nation have been soaring in recent weeks. Hospitals in the Midwest are at capacity. New restrictions are in effect in the Northeast. The high rates drifted toward the Sunbelt, as reflected in increasingly red maps from Arizona to Tennessee. South Carolina, light orange for weeks, is getting oranger as new coronavirus cases have gone from hundreds a day to more than a thousand.
Right now, we’re not ready for what is a coming medical hurricane. In a real hurricane, the state of South Carolina has an emergency plan and lots of specific steps to move people out of harm’s way. But during the pandemic, the state’s government has been sitting on its hands, mostly incompetent. It has been more concerned with issuing hollow warnings and updating websites with data that should, but isn’t, driving real and serious policy and action.
South Carolina still has no uniform state mandate to wear masks or thin crowds. Places where people meet are operating again, albeit with some self-imposed safety protocols. People are moving and interacting almost like a year ago — just look at the traffic in metro areas.
With another surge on the way, we really need to be staying at home, not going to parties and football games.
Unfortunately, our state’s leader, Gov. Henry McMaster, has taken a course in denial about the threats from coronavirus from his crony, President Trump. The GOP-run legislature is no better at protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Instead, it twiddles as more people die and get the virus.
“We really don’t have any leadership,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat who is the new Senate minority leader. “The governor is in line with Trump. There’s no leadership at DHEC [the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control] and the legislature has abandoned the field.
“There is no plan [to deal with the virus spread] and this is going to be a difficult winter. The news of the vaccine is great, but what’s the plan to distribute that?”
To get a handle on what the state is actually doing to get ready for the surge, we turned to DHEC. It hasn’t returned phone calls but says on a website that coronavirus questions should go to the S.C. Emergency Management Division. So we sent eight questions to both agencies and the governor:
1. It looks like COVID-19 is getting worse around the country and that a likely surge is headed this way. What is the state doing to curb the likelihood of another surge?
2. When will Gov. McMaster issue a mandatory mask mandate?
3. What’s the economic outlook ahead for businesses, particularly with the obvious surge coming this way?
4. What more can people do other than wear masks, socially distance, not gather, and wash hands?
5. What are projected deaths and infections by the end of the year and by end of Q1 of 2021?
6. How would the state characterize the current situation — getting ready to get worse or improving or what?
7. What emergency plans are in place to ensure there are enough hospital beds if there is a surge? What’s the latest data on bed availability?
8. What’s the state doing to promote and increase testing? Is this a priority and, if not, why?
Want to guess the responses?
Yep, nothing but crickets. Which is what you expect when the state is acting like a circular firing squad.
“This fish stinks from the head,” said Fred Palm of Edisto Island, a retired professor of oversight and investigations who has called on the governor to be bold with more testing. “The basic problem is McMaster controls DHEC staff and board appointments. Independence is squashed.”
God, help us in the terrifying days ahead that wouldn’t be as frightening if we had state leaders who led.
So do your best for your family: Wear masks. Stay at home. Wash your hands. Be socially distanced. Be patient until you can get vaccinated.
Andy Brack is publisher of Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to: email@example.com.