Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier
Involving police and agencies in shutting down crowded events
In Murrells Inlet, an estimated 2,000 maskless patrons packed shoulder to shoulder into a biker bar, yelling enthusiastically toward the stage.
Three days later in Columbia, hundreds of similarly unmasked USC students packed even more tightly onto an outdoor patio, while others waited in a crush of students to get inside a bar in the Five Points bar district.
Slightly less crowded but similarly COVID-19-unaware scenes repeat themselves every weekend at high school and college football games, and such super-spreader events doubtless are occurring across the state in smaller but still significant numbers, beyond the notice of local news media.
It was probably a coincidence that the gathering at Suck Bang Blow occurred just hours after Gov. Henry McMaster lifted social distancing requirements on restaurants and bars earlier this month; patrons were routinely violating the face covering requirement that remained in place and that the bar had agreed to in order to get state approval for more than 250 people to attend.
The Pavlov's incident in Columbia was a direct response to the governor's order: The owner had just re-opened the bar after keeping it closed for months because of previous orders that set a 50% limit on occupancy, required six feet between tables and a maximum of eight people at a table and prohibited people from congregating in bar areas.
But even with the tougher bar and restaurant restrictions gone, local officials have the tools available to shut down super-spreader events if they choose to. The problem is that many are choosing not to.
The governor's emergency order still requires patrons to wear masks at restaurants and bars except when they are in the act of eating or drinking. And some local ordinances, including Columbia's, require people to wear masks outdoors if they're not 6 feet from others.
More significantly, S.C. Code Section 16-7-10(1)(b) says that during a state of emergency, it's illegal for people to "congregate, unless authorized or in their homes, in groups of three or more and to refuse to disperse upon order of a law enforcement officer." The key here is an officer ordering them to disperse. And the governor's emergency declaration actually orders state and local police to use that law if they determine "that any such congregation or gathering of people poses, or could pose, a threat to public health."
Certainly, Mr. McMaster shouldn't have loosened the social distancing requirements, particularly since state law makes it impossible to apply different rules for bars and restaurants (a problem itself that the Legislature needs to address).
And DHEC needs to crack down on bars and restaurants that ignore the remaining restrictions, by shutting them down in extreme cases, just like it would if they were running filthy kitchens that endanger public health.
The state Revenue Department, likewise, needs to strip liquor licenses from bars that flout what restrictions remain - as it is trying to do with Suck Bang Blow as a result of a similar event in the spring.
And the Commerce Department needs to stop signing off on practically every organization that asks for an exemption from the governor's 250-person limit on gatherings - particularly when, as with the Murrell's Inlet bar, it has a history as a bad actor.
But with or without any of that happening, local police - and the elected officials they work for - need to take some responsibility as well. Police were present at both bars but didn't even make an effort to enforce restrictions.
Mr. McMaster argued for months that mask mandates aren't enforceable, and it's true that police could never arrest everybody who violates one - just like police can't arrest everybody who drives over the speed limit. But as we've seen with Charleston's ordinance, they certainly can write tickets when they come upon egregious examples of people flouting the law. In fact, it's a dereliction of duty not to do so.
The (Columbia) State
Continuing to follow coronavirus-related measures
It has been weeks and counting since South Carolina last had 1,000 or more new cases of COVID-19 in a single day.
And that's worth celebrating.
OK . that's long enough. Yes, stop.
We interrupt this premature celebration for a stark reality check:
- COVID-19 is still a menace in South Carolina.
- The work to get the upper hand over COVID-19 in our state is nowhere near done.
So at the risk of being a buzzkill, here's a reminder that now isn't the time to pat our backs about how far we've seemingly come regarding the virus in South Carolina.
In fact, it's time to roll our sleeves up even higher to prepare for the hard work still to come.
STILL A THREAT
Here's a quick rundown on what still applies when it comes to COVID-19 in our state.
- It's still not "just like getting the flu" - and if you remain among the dangerously delusional deniers who think it is, just ask the myriad South Carolinians who use words like "brutal" and "no joke" while describing their harrowing experiences in surviving COVID-19.
- It's still killing South Carolinians each day (including, tragically, a mother and daughter in one family).
- We still haven't reached the winter months of late 2020 and early 2021, which will be the crucial period for determining where our state really stands in fighting COVID-19.
- We still haven't lowered the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests to the 5% goal that's been set by State Epidemiologist Linda Bell and other South Carolina health experts.
- We're still having events - ranging from high school football games to Halloween parties -postponed or canceled because of coronavirus-related concerns.
- We're still seeing communities across the state extend ordinances that require citizens to wear face masks in public places - and rightly so.
And the list of cold, hard facts goes on. And on.
FOCUS ON THE NEXT 30 DAYS
So, yes, it is encouraging that our state has now gone more than 30 days with fewer than 1,000 new positive daily cases.
But it's time to cut short any celebration about the past 30 days - and stay focused on the daunting challenges COVID-19 will continue to present our state during the 30 (and 60, 90 and 120) days ahead.
The Times and Democrat
The need to get a flu shot this year
President Donald Trump is not strengthening his political hand by playing down the impact of the coronavirus. No matter how deaths are classified, there is no denying that thousands in the United States have died from the coronavirus or complications related to COVID-19.
The president appears on the road to recovery from his bout with the virus, but he has had access to care and treatments not available to all Americans. And though his push for a vaccine is understandable in terms of saving lives and boosting his political fortunes, testing safeguards must remain in place to assure Americans that when there is a vaccine, it is safe.
Perhaps the one good thing about Trump on Oct. 6 again comparing COVID-19 to the flu is the reminder to Americans that flu is a very real threat to health and lives separate from the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that last year the flu hospitalized 400,000 Americans and killed 22,000. And that is with a vaccine available.
Thus the extra emphasis this year on people getting a flu shot so that a "twindemic" with COVID-19 can be averted.
"There's considerable concern as we enter the fall and winter months and into the flu season that we'll have that dreaded overlap" of flu and the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said.
The Associated Press reported that a record number of flu vaccine doses are on the way, between 194 million and 198 million for the U.S. alone - seemingly plenty considering last year just under half of adults got vaccinated and there usually are leftovers.
That's correct: Less than half of adults annually take the flu shot.
In South Carolina, 43.3% took the flu vaccine in 2018-19, which is below the national average of 46%. Nevada ranks last at 33.9%.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe illness and can be deadly - especially to vulnerable people, including the very young, the elderly and those with certain chronic health conditions. Symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat and nasal congestion or stuffiness.
Health officials have long touted the importance of getting vaccinated.
The CDC urges people to get their flu vaccine by the end of October. Typically flu starts widely circulating in November or December and peaks by February. From the date of vaccination, it takes approximately two weeks for the antibodies that provide protection to develop in the body.
The flu vaccine is available from many local providers - including doctors' offices, clinics, pharmacies, schools and workplaces. County public health departments offer flu shots.
While there is no guarantee of not contracting influenza even with the vaccine, it remains the best way to avoid getting the illness.
Couple being vaccinated with following the protocol for protecting people from the coronavirus and just maybe flu numbers will be down in 2020. Do your part to make it so: Get a flu shot!
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