APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Florida Beaches

Beachgoers in Clearwater Beach, Fla., try to keep a safe distance from each other during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday that South Carolina is unique, and he's absolutely right — particularly when it comes to this pandemic.

As of this weekend, we're the only state in the South not ordering its residents to stay home because of the coronavirus.

The governor on Friday expanded the list of businesses that must close to stem the spread of COVID-19, notably adding short-term rentals. But he still won't demand that everyone just shelter in place.

"It could be where we end up, but we're taking precise, deliberate steps," McMaster said.

Yes, many people would prefer he just shut down the entire state — and that's not an unreasonable position. But even without that, South Carolina has handled this crisis smarter than most of our neighbors.

Although it may be grading on a curve, one thing is certain: We are not the looniest state in the South.

For instance, late last week Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered his state’s residents to shelter in place … after resisting calls to do so for weeks. His excuse for the abrupt change? He claimed that he’d just learned the virus could be spread by people who showed no symptoms.

“We didn't know that until the last 24 hours,” Kemp said.

Really? A man responsible for one of the largest states in the country — who works in the same city as the national headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — claims he hadn't heard one of the most basic facts about the coronavirus.

Which Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been saying publicly since January.

You know, back when some people were calling the dire warnings a hoax.

But Kemp looks like a rocket scientist next to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who for the past month has allowed every beach in his state to look like an episode of MTV Spring Break.

DeSantis, who during his 2018 campaign did a commercial in which he read "The Art of the Deal" to a baby, has proven even more clueless and tin-eared than his ads suggest. Two weeks ago, he presented the state's House speaker with a baseball bat inscribed “Slayer of the health care industrial complex.”

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Which only reminded folks that, by then, Major League Baseball had canceled Florida spring training because of the pandemic.

After the White House predicted there could be 100,000-240,000 deaths from the coronavirus, and the number of cases in Florida passed 8,000 with a bullet, the governor finally agreed to a shutdown.

But then he signed an executive order, and later denied it, that said local governments couldn't shutter churches … a few days after a Tampa preacher was arrested for violating local pandemic orders by holding services in a megachurch with 500 attendees.

The pastor said he would stay open until the Rapture, which he was apparently trying to hurry along.

And in Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves last month issued an executive order overriding local cities that had mandated social distancing and the closing of nonessential businesses.

Reeves claims he reversed course because the data finally supported shelter-in-place. Finally?

McMaster has been criticized for rolling out successively more restrictive orders, but not invoking the nuclear option ... although he has politely asked folks to stay home for the past two weeks.

Is that working? Well, a New York Times map of cellphone data shows people in Charleston County have been staying put for more than a week ... even if the rest of the state isn't. And we have yet to hit the number of coronavirus cases DHEC predicted we'd have by April 2.

Of course, none of this is ideal and perhaps the governor should issue the order. But at least he hasn't sent mixed messages, claimed the threat was overblown or played politics like so many of his counterparts. Next to those goofballs, he looks like Churchill.

Perhaps McMaster's reticence here is a sign that he knows folks in the state that started the Civil War don’t cotton to the government telling them what to do.

Back in those days, former state Attorney General James Petigru declared this state "too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum."

These days, stay-at-home order or not, South Carolina looks like an island of sanity in a crazy part of the country.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.