Sean Rayford file

First came bold, if scary, steps from local city councils to keep people home. Then they did the smart thing and mandated masks. Now, individual school districts are trying to think creatively to reopen schools safely.

Who is in charge here?

You’d think there would be real leadership at the state level to protect people across the Palmetto State. But so far, Gov. Henry McMaster has been feckless at best, reckless at worst. Thank goodness some local leaders have been willing to step up and make the tough decisions during the coronavirus pandemic.

McMaster paints himself as a man with his hands tied. Does the former state attorney general think he’s in a sophomoric game of chicken with the United States Constitution? Dealing with the pandemic isn’t about freedom of speech or powers enshrined in the Constitution. But McMaster is a creature of Columbia. It’s clear his instincts are more attuned to politics than the plain reality of the disaster that has unfolded in South Carolina on his watch.

As McMaster has twiddled his thumbs, mayors and city councils have attempted to keep their people safe. The governor’s continuing impotent response has forced community leaders to piece together a patchwork pandemic response. Unfortunately, this default position has proven to be a bad strategy as the virus is back and it’s nearly out of control, health officials say. More than 1,100 people have died. ICU beds are filling up. Nursing students are stepping in because there aren’t enough caregivers to handle demand.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many people would not have gotten sick if there were real leadership in Columbia. But it’s no coincidence that in states that took the virus seriously, cases have gone down.

Carol Jackson, who represents parts of James Island on Charleston City Council, has said local business owners were begging for someone to step in and do the right thing.

“I’m not saying that if we had a top-down directive … that everyone would have gone along with it, but I do think it would have quieted a lot of the pushback early on when things were critical,” she said. “We have done the best we could without that kind of overall directive … It really has been a very difficult road to walk.”

Worse, the numbers show how this virus has disproportionately impacted non-urban and non-white communities, but you would not know it if you looked at how state leaders have responded.

Now, as McMaster’s political desire to reopen South Carolina classrooms is roundly criticized by teachers, who is left to figure out how to keep our kids safe? Our superintendents and school boards.

It should not have to be like this. Governments are set up to govern. Leaders are elected to lead. But in a state emasculated by Republican small-government politics, state leadership seems limited to thumbing your nose at the very people who feel the pain of incompetent inaction.