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  • Sen. Mia McLeod

Who's protecting the people of SC?

It’s an especially sad day when we lose a child for any reason, and our state has just lost a child to complications of COVID-19. This week, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell reported our first two cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but serious COVID-19 related illness.

For weeks, South Carolina’s COVID-19 numbers have been surging out of control with over 62,000 cases and roughly 1,000 deaths so far. At the outset of this pandemic, our state was projected to have about 8,000 cases by August. Instead, we’ve seen nearly 15,000 new cases in the last week.

Gov. McMaster has consistently refused to take any decisive action to save lives and prevent more South Carolinians from needlessly suffering and dying. But today, he decided to trump State Superintendent Molly Spearman, as well as parents, teachers, business and community leaders and public health experts across SC by scrapping the painstaking work of AccelerateSC and AccelerateED Task Forces. During a joint press conference with House and Senate leaders, he announced that “ALL schools must reopen…for FULL 5 day-a-week IN-PERSON instruction.”

So once again, noneducator politicians have made critical, life-changing decisions for front-line educators across SC without their input or any consideration for their well-being.  

NO statewide mask mandate.  NO additional funding. And NO PLAN.

As the President aggressively pushes schools across the country to reopen, our Governor chooses to “follow the leader” who politicizes everything from face-masks to ventilators, dismisses his own CDC safety guidelines as “very tough and expensive” and attempts to discredit Dr. Fauci, the science, the data and any other public health experts who challenge his politically-expedient opinions with scientific facts. A decision that has already cost almost 140,000 Americans their lives.

According to Gov. McMaster, “we must reopen our economy. People must go back to work.” Who cares if school buildings are poorly ventilated…classrooms are overcrowded...buses are dilapidated…cleaning crews and supplies aren’t guaranteed…students and teachers don’t have room to social distance and PPE, like school supplies, will be relegated to classroom wish lists.  

Not surprising, since Republican majority leaders have unapologetically defunded our “minimally adequate” public education system for decades.

Like SC, Arizona is a COVID-19 hotspot. Three Arizona teachers who recently shared a classroom this summer contracted COVID-19. One of those teachers died. Even before the pandemic, many SC students were already disadvantaged. Take a look at my hometown, Marlboro County (a.k.a. the “Corridor of Shame”), and see for yourself.

And if you thought SC teachers were leaving the profession in droves before COVID-19…just wait.

Who knew there was so much concern about our students’ mental, emotional and academic health? And where has all that “love” been hiding during budget appropriations?

Forcing children back to school so we can force their parents back to “essential” front-line jobs means even more sickness and death…especially in rural, impoverished communities of color where COVID-19 is already wreaking havoc because of decades of systemic health and socio-economic inequities.

Sadly, these types of disparities have always been acceptable to the Governor and legislative “leaders” in this “minimally adequate” state.

Why can’t we use these obstacles as opportunities to help put all South Carolinians on more equitable footing? Together, we could begin to:

• Expand Broadband

• Expand Medicaid

• Modernize & Fully Fund Public Education

• Extend and Enhance Distance Learning Capabilities

• Invest in COVID19 safety-compliant Facilities & Transportation

Unlike Gov. McMaster and SC House and Senate leaders, I appreciate the hard work and recommendations of our AccelerateSC and AccelerateED Task Forces. Ignoring the science, expert advice and concerns of parents and teachers isn’t leadership. If personal responsibility alone got the job done, SC wouldn’t rank #3 in the world per capita for new COVID-19 cases or #8 in the U.S. for states where people refuse to wear masks.  

Reopening schools while this virus is raging and spreading exponentially defies science, logic and good old-fashioned common sense. We shouldn’t even think about sending our babies back into the classroom until SC is no longer a world-ranked COVID-19 Petri dish.

As we quickly work our way to the #1 spot in the world (per capita) for COVID-19 cases, maybe our Republican “leaders” will stop playing partisan politics with people’s lives and deliberately creating a divisive, false narrative that we can save the economy or save lives, but we can’t do both.  

Gov. McMaster has unilaterally decided to protect the economy at all costs. If that means endangering the lives of students, teachers, parents, healthcare workers and South Carolina’s most vulnerable, then so be it.

False narratives and false choices couldn’t be more reckless, short-sighted, irresponsible and wrong for the people of South Carolina.

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