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Scoppe: SC government's done protecting us; how we save ourselves from coronavirus

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Magnuson-Cox

S.C. Reps. Josiah Magnuson and Bobby Cox were among the many lawmakers ignoring social distancing recommendations during Tuesday's legislative session. Cindi Ross Scoppe/Staff

The reasonable basis for allowing businesses to reopen before South Carolina has a sustained reduction in COVID-19 infections is that we’ve all retrained ourselves to keep a safe social distance from others and to protect ourselves with masks when we can’t.

And most of us probably have.

But not all of us.

Certainly not the 20 cheering patrons captured on an Instagram photo at a downtown Charleston bar, standing inches apart.

Certainly not the two dozen unmasked 20-somethings packed in line, waiting to get into the outdoor seating area of a restaurant in Columbia’s Five Points bar district.

Not the wait staff who expose their faces at freshly opened restaurants, or the shoppers who cruise the grocery store aisles, noses and mouths unobstructed.

And unfortunately, not a lot of our legislators. Yes, several wore masks, kept their distance and wiped down the microphone after they took their turn at the lectern when the Legislature met on Tuesday; Rep. Eddie Tallon even wore a full face shield over his mask and hauled a chair out into the mostly deserted antechamber, only venturing into the chamber, gingerly, when he had to cast a vote.

But many — probably most — House members were maskless and sat elbow-to-elbow in their duplex desks. Unlike the previous two times they were in session, no one retreated to the balcony for extra space during their six and a half hours in session. Over in the Senate, where the desks are larger but still adjacent, with less than 6 feet between senators, more wore masks, but only Dick Harpootlian participated from the balcony.

Scoppe Mug Shot (copy)

Cindi Ross Scoppe

Down on the floor, his colleagues complained intermittently about the governor’s serialized emergency orders. Just before adjourning, they voted 17-16 to declare that state law doesn’t allow the governor to bypass the 15-day limit on states of emergency by simply signing a new one on Day 16. (Similar complaints emerged across the hall but fizzled out.)

The legislation, which raises an important legal question that lawmakers ought to address at some point, was nonbinding; the main goal of S.1201, Sen. Dwight Loftis told the Senate, was to give voice to the many constituents who think the time has passed — if it ever arrived — for lockdowns.

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That feeling is far from universal, but coming a day after Gov. Henry McMaster announced that even most close-contact businesses may reopen on Monday, the Senate vote should make it clear that the debate over whether to reopen South Carolina has ended.

Fortunately, a lot of us probably can safely return to work and to much of our daily lives — assuming we take precautions to protect ourselves from those people who can’t be bothered with worrying about whether they infect others or become infected themselves … and then infect others.

That’ll be a challenge in some workplaces. That’s why one of the priorities for government must be ensuring worker safety; otherwise, trial lawyers will do that through litigation. One of Mr. McMaster’s biggest missed opportunities — one I hope he’ll reconsider if a resurgence requires further restrictions — was requesting rather than requiring reopening businesses to follow the guidelines established by a team of business and government officials (requiring masks, for instance, or spacing tables in restaurants at least 6 feet apart).

But protecting ourselves outside the workplace is entirely doable — if sometimes inconvenient or awkward. It starts with continuing to stay home as much as we can. When we have to venture out, we can avoid places that are crowded, especially if most people aren’t masked. We can order takeout as our favorite restaurants reopen and be smart and selective with in-person dining, since the people who can’t be bothered with worrying about infecting us will be among the first flooding back in. We can keep our guard up even around friends. And wash our hands. And keep them off our faces.

When I suggested this Monday in our weekly Opinion Newsletter , readers sent me a litany of modern-day Typhoid Mary stories. My favorite: a 70-year-old woman who “got her hair done last week, went and got strawberries and bagged them up and delivered them to her friends around town, went out flower shopping and asked my wife today to ride with her 2-plus hours each way to NC just for company.” His wife did the only thing a responsible person could do in the COVID-19 world: She declined. The woman said maybe she’d invite another friend — a woman in her 80s.

They’re easy to spot, these people who refuse to care that their activities might injure others. And we’re going to be spotting more of them every day. The only way we can protect ourselves and our loved ones, and deprive the coronavirus of the new hosts it needs to survive, is to keep our distance — even when that means being less than social.

HouseCoronavirus

Desks in the S.C. House chamber are close enough together that it takes some work to practice social distancing. Some lawmakers sat elsewhere, or wore masks; lots didn't. Cindi Ross Scoppe/Staff

Cindi Ross Scoppe is an editorial writer for The Post and Courier. Contact her at cscoppe@postandcourier.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter  @cindiscoppe.

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