COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Health officials announced the first two positive COVID-19 cases in South Carolina on March 6.
Since then, Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency and issued numerous executive orders to combat the spread of the virus within the state.
But is it enough? Several lawmakers talked to WIS on Wednesday, saying the governor needs to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
Within the last five days, McMaster closed access to state parks and prohibited public access points to beaches and lakes. He closed certain types of non-essential businesses, such as fitness centers and hair salons.
Currently, all public schools continue to educate students through eLearning. And, for now, will continue to do so until the end of April.
The governor has implored every citizen in the state to stay at home.
But at this time, it’s not a mandate by law. People can freely leave home and move throughout the community for any reason or no reason, essential or not, as long as they do not gather in crowds.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called on the governor to take the next step and issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
Such an order would prohibit travel, along with public and private gatherings, except for an essential reason such as going to the grocery store, doctors visit or on a walk. It could also mandate businesses still in operation adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“That’s what is dumbfounding,” Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland County, said. “As we baby step towards what needs to be done, according to experts, to slow the spread of this virus and to protect the citizens of South Carolina. I don’t understand why he hasn’t taken that step and told the citizens under the force of law you must stay at home.”
Neighboring states Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and now Florida have all issued a stay-at-home order. South Carolina is one of only 13 states without such an order as of Wednesday evening.
“I’m just as frustrated as anyone else,” Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun County, said. “I’m just trying to understand why then this slow rollout, take it as it comes type of a situation -- rather than what everyone perceives to be, we’re going to have to get there eventually.”
“People need to stay home,” Rep. Wendy C. Brawley, D-Richland County, said. “A stay-at-home executive order should define more strictly what businesses are deemed essential and mandate social distancing in those businesses that are allowed to remain open -- with the exception of hospitals and law enforcement facilities. Grocery stores, Walmarts and home supply stores are more crowded now than ever. The executive order should prohibit all public and private gatherings -- social, church, funerals, etc. Government offices should be closed if they are not essential to fighting the pandemic.”
“It’s a tough job,” Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland County, said. “And everyone wants to second guess some of these tough decisions. I’m glad the governor has a team of medical professionals and others to give him the facts and data to know what’s best for our state.”
“We should not be recommending you stay home unless you want to go out,” Rose added. “We should require you to stay home unless you are leaving for one of the allowed purposes -- necessary services, permitted work, care for those who need it, exercise. Simply closing some places where people might want to go does not tell people they must stay home.”
Professor and Chair in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Arnold School of Public Health at UofSC, Anthony Alberg, Ph.D., calls COVID-19 the perfect storm.
He says it’s a new virus in humans, which means we are all susceptible to infection. The high rate of infectiousness of the virus allows it to spread rapidly through a population. And the severity of the virus can lead to severe illness or death.
Many experts in the field say that strong measures that restrict interactions between people, along with engaging in social distancing will be the most effective way to slow the spread of the virus.
“If that’s not applied uniformly, that’s just putting more of the population at risk,” Alberg said. “The longer COVID-19 is circulating in the population then it’s going to find it’s way to susceptible subgroups of the population.”
“We essentially have no one that has seen this infection before,” added Melissa Nolan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics Arnold School of Public Health. “So our immune system has no kind of way to give you a leading edge. It makes it very effective at transmitting.”
Nolan hopes the public takes the measures put into place to protect the people of South Carolina seriously.
“Our hope is that those that are healthy will heed this advice,” Nolan said. “So we can lower transmissions, so other people that are more vulnerable are not at higher risk. It’s essentially our civic responsibility to help provide better care for others.”
Dr. Alberg said not to think in terms of weeks, instead months when it comes to resuming activity as usual.
The peak for positive cases within our state is projected for the end of the month and the beginning of May.