Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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June 28

The Post and Courier on some cities in South Carolina mandating that people wear masks in public spaces, including in restaurants:

South Carolina’s hospitality industry got overtaken by events this past week — in a good way — when three of the state’s largest cities adopted ordinances to require people to wear masks in public, including in restaurants.

We can’t very well keep our masks on while we’re eating, and wait staff have to get pretty close to serve our meals and even to take our orders, so restaurants will always be one of our biggest challenges in the age of COVID-19. Compound that with many restaurants’ refusal to require their staff to wear masks, and we have a recipe for infection — and an invitation for a large swath of customers to keep eating at home, dealing a potentially fatal blow to individual businesses and an entire sector that is a crucial part of our economy and our lives.

We’re hopeful that the mask mandates adopted by the Charleston, Columbia and Greenville councils will make restaurants safer places in those cities, and inspire more people to return to restaurants. Even more, we hope that the mask mandates will help tamp down South Carolina’s soaring infection rate enough that we aren’t forced to follow Texas, where coronavirus hospitalizations jumped so high that the governor had to halt elective surgeries again. So we’re relieved that those cities took the action that Gov. Henry McMaster has declined to take, and we hope other cities and counties will follow suit. Quickly.

Until they do, people who go out to eat elsewhere in the state should follow the governor’s recommendation and patronize only restaurants that voluntarily require their staff to wear masks and agree to follow other basic health and safety recommendations. That should be easier to do thanks to a program Mr. McMaster and the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association unveiled Tuesday to help customers locate restaurants that are willing to do more than the law requires to protect their customers and staff.

Unlike earlier voluntary programs in the Charleston, Columbia and Greenville areas that don’t actually require participants to do anything more than “try” to protect customers, the Palmetto Priority pledge requires restaurants to enforce social distancing, disinfecting and mask wearing. Participants will be able to display a Palmetto Priority sticker and be listed on a website (palmettopriority.com) where customers can locate restaurants that are following public health guidelines.

And Palmetto Priority’s additional requirements — all managers must complete a COVID-19 training program and participants must designate one person per shift to enforce hand-washing and sanitation guidelines — make it a useful safety check for diners even in cities with mask requirements. (Well, we hope they will: As of Friday, the list of participating restaurants was marked as “Coming Soon,” and the association hadn’t returned our email seeking an update on its timeline.)

A lot of people, understandably, aren’t ready to return to restaurants, no matter how many safety precautions they’re taking. But this program can be useful when they are, by demonstrating which restaurants take public health seriously as well as which ones care about their employees’ health. And for those people who want to start dining out again if they know restaurants are taking reasonable precautions, this could be just what they, and a struggling industry, need.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com

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June 28

The Island Packet on the response of Hilton Head Island city officials to the coronavirus pandemic:

Hilton Head Island has the weakest mayor in the state.

Strangers can see that the island is a “zoo,” as a visiting PGA Tour player accurately described it last week.

Mayor John McCann has always said “residents first.” He campaigned on that.

But residents have been pleading in vain for four months for the Town of Hilton Head Island to treat the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as a public health issue rather than a business or personal rights issue.

The result is the “zoo,” with a crowded, unmasked island giving all appearances that there is no pandemic, even as numbers of infections and deaths rise dramatically here and statewide.

That is how we will be remembered. When the chips were down, we were a zoo.

The optics are that Hilton Head cares primarily for the visitor’s dollar, and that the chamber of commerce is in charge.

McCann joined a loud chorus of residents in questioning a popular restaurant group’s policy of not requiring workers to wear masks. So he believes in the masks, yet he doesn’t follow his convictions with actual policy.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling sent out an email message on Thursday was jarring. He shared with the public a letter from Russell Baxley, president and CEO of Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

First, Baxley drew attention to just how real the pandemic is, saying his organization “is weary and fatigued, and thought in late May and into early June we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. This light seems to get farther and farther away every day.”

And here’s why:

“This surge in positive cases is due directly to the lack of masking in public,” Baxley wrote.

Why Hilton Head has been so slow to accept this reality is mind-boggling.

As Greenville, Charleston, Columbia and Spartanburg invoke policies, our Beaufort County mayors are all behind. The state attorney general’s office endorses the legality of that.

Hilton Head Town Council plans to address on Monday a simple measure that national and local health leaders — not to mention residents — have been pleading for for weeks.

The drafted ordinance puts the onus for safety on employees, not patrons/tourists/residents. Masks are required at grocery stores and pharmacies. But not in public places where there are likely to be crowds. That seems weak.

The mask is not a silver bullet that will clear out all infections. It won’t. But listen to Beaufort’s hospital director, with our emphasis added:

“I don’t believe it is reasonable to expect Beaufort or South Carolina to shut down again, but the only way to avoid another shut down is universal masking in public.

“The only way to avoid overwhelming the hospital in a second wave is universal masking.

“The only way to stop this current surge is universal masking.

“The only way to save lives is universal masking.

“If we are waiting on the hospital to fill up before we sound the alarms, then it is already too late, so the hospital is sounding them now.

“Our objective should be to keep people out of the hospital, not wait until the hospital is full, but at this rate, it will not be long until that time comes as admissions and deaths are a lagging indicator and what we should be watching is the continued increase in positive tests.”

What’s Hilton Head’s mayor watching? Hotel occupancy rates?

Online: https://www.islandpacket.com/

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June 25

The Times and Democrat on South Carolina's hurricane evacuation plan:

South Carolina’s hurricane evacuation plans were put to the test in October 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. They were tested again in 2018 during Hurricane Florence.

A key to evacuation is opening up major routes to get people away from the coast to inland areas in The T&D Region and beyond. Ahead of Matthew and Florence, that meant implementing a 20-year-old plan to reverse lanes on Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia.

During Matthew, the plan worked smoothly – with the most common complaints involving the post-storm return to the coast and questions about why lanes were not reversed again for the process. With Florence, the slow-moving storm ultimately spared most coastal areas of the state, leaving some to wonder why the evacuation was ordered. Was in necessary? Yes, based on the forecasts.

The lane-reversal plan was born of a bad experience.

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd threatened. And though South Carolina ultimately was spared the wrath of that storm, there was plenty of wrath to go around.

Some scenes:

• People standing around their cars in traffic that simply was not moving, many making angry comments to reporters and anyone who’d listen.

• A woman changing a youngster’s diaper behind the door of a car stopped in the lanes of traffic on I-26.

• Cars stalled along the roadside, out of gas from the long delay.

• The governor flying over in a helicopter before getting to Charleston to tell the media all was going smoothly with the evacuation.

The mandatory evacuation ordered by then-Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges did not go smoothly — and it didn’t take the governor long after that to find out. Late in the day of the evacuation, back in Columbia, Hodges ordered the traffic flow out of Charleston to all lanes of the interstate, closing off eastbound traffic.

For days afterward, Hodges took hit after hit from media, politicians and citizens. All the while, he and his lieutenants attempted to explain. Later he issued a formal apology.

It was a lesson learned. A lane-reversal plan for hurricanes became a fundamental part of the state’s emergency plan.

No such plan, however, is any better than its implementation. That’s why state emergency personnel annually descend on I-26 and other key evacuation routes to put the plan to the test.

The S.C. Department of Public Safety, in conjunction with other state agencies, on Thursday will conduct a lane-reversal exercise to prepare emergency personnel for traffic scenarios that might occur during an actual hurricane. The exercise simulates the deployment of law enforcement personnel and traffic-control devices -- even though lanes are not reversed for the exercise.

The hurricane exercise is meant to test readiness during the pre-execution and mobilization phase, test information flow from the emergency operations centers to the field, assess the procedures for lane reversals and evaluate how well participating agencies work together.

Such tests are crucial in ensuring public confidence in the system. When ordered to evacuate, people must leave the coast without wondering whether they’ll be able to get out on the roads and highways.

The plan worked well in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. It worked in 2018 during Florence. Hopefully, it will not be needed in 2020.

Online: https://thetandd.com/