South Carolinians are frustrated by this COVID-19 “Coronavirus” roller-coaster we’ve been on, since the initial news of the virus broke.
National leaders convey conflicting messages, while the virus sickens hundreds of thousands in over 130 countries, worldwide. Medical experts at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) warn that this virus can cause severe respiratory illnesses and spread very easily from person-to-person, traveling through the air when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes—even if the person doesn’t yet realize they’re infected. Our state has already been exposed, with the highest numbers right here in the Midlands. Still, we’re not adequately prepared, communicating forthrightly or allocating sufficient resources to proactively and aggressively contain and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Telling us to wash our hands, cover our mouths if we cough or sneeze and stay in if we feel sick is common-sense advice, but it’s not leadership. Neither is prioritizing tourism, business & industry and the economy, over the well-being of our citizens. But on the same day the WHO declared this virus a “global pandemic,” that’s precisely what the Governor did. In fact, he shared his plans to still attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the Upstate—even encouraging the people of South Carolina to continue our normal routines, while medical experts cautioned us to avoid highly-populated gatherings. From the NCAA, to the NBA and PGA, games and tournaments are being suspended and cancelled across the country. Virtual classes are replacing traditional ones. Even Disney and Universal Studios Theme Parks are closing temporarily. So are government offices, churches and schools in other states. While I’m grateful that Carolina Cup organizers cancelled the March 28 event in Kershaw County and the Public Service Commission agreed to host virtual night hearings here in Richland County, so that my constituents can still call-in on March 19 to give their testimony concerning Palmetto Utilities’ proposed rate increase, these are small steps I’ve taken to protect my constituents and community. Encouraging our citizens to go on with their daily routines, clearly compromises the health and well-being of our elderly residents and others like me, who have preexisting conditions. To have our state’s highest-ranking government official downplay the dangers and potential impact of the Coronavirus on the same day that it’s declared a “global pandemic,” is inconceivable and irresponsible. Despite the virus’ global implications, our Senate Majority Leader echoed the Governor’s sentiments on the Senate Floor, by further downplaying it...as if our lives won’t be significantly impacted. But, anyone who’s paying attention knows that’s simply not true. So, when I questioned him about the fact that our state’s elderly and most vulnerable are not only more susceptible, but more likely to die from the Coronavirus...he “reminded” me that people were watching (our live-stream on SCETV), as if I should be concerned. I wasn’t. In fact, I hope everyone is watching because our state is already way behind when it comes to preparation. That was never more obvious than on Thursday, when several key DHEC officials admitted that currently, SC only has the capacity to test 1,000 - 1,200 people. In a state that’s home to 5 million, those numbers are grossly inadequate. Even after being tested, it could take several days to get the results. President Trump has repeatedly stated that he cares only about “keeping the numbers low,” so as to not adversely impact the stock market. Despite his possible exposure, he has declined to be tested so far, a decision that could potentially expose others to the virus. With all of the conflicting, misleading, politically-motivated messaging our government “leaders” are putting out there to deliberately confuse, conflate and counter the facts that medical experts are attempting to convey, it’s no wonder people don’t trust government. Politics should never trump what’s in the people’s best interest. Yet, that’s not what we’re seeing at our highest levels of government. Hopefully, South Carolina will take a different approach. I’m encouraged to learn that just this afternoon, Gov. McMaster declared a State of Emergency, ordering Kershaw & Lancaster County schools to close for 14 days, and limiting visitation at local and state correctional, as well as assisted living and nursing home facilities in all 46 counties. That’s a great first step. I respectfully urge him to go further to show independent leadership at this critical time in our state’s history, by proactively addressing some of the questions that South Carolinians who are deeply and justifiably concerned, are asking:
How soon will our state have enough tests?
Will the state relax testing requirements for those who ask to be tested?
What measures are in place to ensure efficient, accurate test results?
Are SC hospitals and urgent care facilities accessible, adequately staffed and prepared for a possible onslaught of Coronavirus patients?
How will self-paying, indigent or uninsured patients be assured affordable testing and/or medical care?
Are SC doctors, nurses and medical personnel adequately protected and tested, to ensure that their jobs aren’t putting them more at risk?
Will ALL schools and non-essential government offices be closed temporarily, to help prevent community spread of the virus, and if so, how will affected state employees and teachers be compensated?
Will substantial funding and resources now available to the states via the President’s National and Governor’s State Emergency Declarations, be used to address the actual and anticipated needs of our citizens? How, specifically?
It’s my hope that the Governor will work with us in the Senate, House and every level of government, to implement a more expedient, proactive and comprehensive approach that helps to mitigate and prevent further community spread of the Coronavirus, before it has an opportunity to wreak havoc on our families, neighbors and communities. The time to act is NOW! This leadership test is one we cannot afford to fail…