Commentary: We’ll speak up for Dr. Linda Bell
BY MARGIE BRIGHT MATTHEWS and MIA MCLEOD
Recently, we learned that state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell expressed concerns about the way she believes Gov. Henry McMaster’s administration “manipulates” the science and data around COVID-19.
It was no surprise, considering South Carolina’s abysmal response to this public health crisis. With nearly 2,400 S.C. deaths and 111,000 COVID-19 positive cases, one doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to take notice of the illogical, irrational, reckless rhetoric that has consistently been used to mislead, misinform and deliberately downplay the impact and seriousness of this deadly virus.
Protecting the people of South Carolina is a collaborative duty. Neither Gov. McMaster nor DHEC can adequately address our state’s most pressing needs in a vacuum.
Instead of issuing a statewide mask mandate, our governor asked local leaders to pass city and county ordinances. As cases across South Carolina continued to surge, he refused to hit “pause.” Instead, he reopened close-contact businesses, public beach access, indoor dining and entertainment venues sooner than the science and public health experts advised.
Even after assembling a diverse team of educators, school administrators, public health experts and business, government and community leaders, the governor tossed AccelerateSC and AccelerateED recommendations to the wind and doubled-down on reopening everything, including public schools, by insisting upon five days of in-person, face-to-face classroom instruction.
During that time, Dr. Bell and state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman were noticeably absent at the governor’s press briefings, presumably ostracized for refusing to “rubber stamp” this ridiculousness. At a recent Re-Open SC legislative committee meeting, Dr. Bell was again ostracized and not allowed to participate.
She and others at DHEC work hard and do what they can to protect us. But, it’s not entirely up to them. We’ve watched her deliver prepared statements during the governor’s COVID-19 press briefings, while he literally looks over her shoulder to remind her that “big brother is watching.”
Her job is to give the governor the science and the data. What he does or doesn’t do with it is beyond her control.
We have legislative colleagues who know that South Carolinians are being deceived by this administration and dying because of it. Unlike Dr. Bell, they have the freedom to speak up.
They just don’t have the courage.
That’s what happens when our elected “leaders” care more about getting reelected than doing the job they’re elected to do.
Could she have spoken up sooner? Sure. Would it have changed anything? Probably not. Working for someone who refuses to follow the science or expert advice is hard enough. Imagine how hard it must be when that “someone” is the governor.
So, we would like to publicly thank Dr. Bell for taking this bold but necessary step to hold the governor and his administration accountable for mishandling this pandemic and misleading the public.
This wasn’t her first time. Prior to the public disclosure of her emails, she went against the governor by publicly asking for a statewide mask mandate. Dr. Bell doesn’t exclude herself from culpability and admits that not saying something sooner was wrong and that she can “no longer stand by the governor without speaking to what the science tells us is the right thing to do.” The irony is she didn’t mislead him. He misled us.
And what the public probably won’t see is the target that’s now on her back because of it. Since she’s speaking up for us, we’re speaking up for her.
The governor is the CEO of this state. He’s the one who was elected by and should be accountable to the people of South Carolina. In fact, the only thing Gov. McMaster has been willing to admit about South Carolina’s abysmal response to this public health crisis is this: “… I’m the one who has to make these decisions. ...” “You have one governor. ...”
He’s right. We do have one governor. And his name is Henry McMaster, not Linda Bell. As the death toll in South Carolina continues to rise, let’s hope that “the one who has to make these decisions” will finally start making the right ones by following the science, putting people over politics and doing right by the folks he was elected to protect and serve.
State Sen. Margie Bright Matthews is a Democrat from Walterboro and state Sen. Mia McLeod is a Democrat from Columbia.