Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
We shouldn't relax precautions during reopening phase
What's the buzz?
Well, one buzz heard on Monday morning was more like a roar. It was the sound of fighter jets from the South Carolina Air National Guard doing a flyover to honor Self Regional Healthcare's workers and first responders.
With beautiful crisp blue skies, the jets soared as low as they could to the applause of onlookers who dotted - most safely, practicing physical distancing - Self's parking areas and green spaces.
The buzz heard now, however, might well be the sound of business returning to some semblance of normalcy. Gov. Henry McMaster has extended his state of emergency declaration, which gives him the power to issue executive orders he deems appropriate in the midst of the pandemic.
In short, as the governor has begun relaxing some of his executive orders, allowing some previously declared nonessential businesses to begin reopening, he is maintaining a level of control to help ease South Carolina back in gear to reengage and reignite the economy.
As he, we and others have repeatedly said, however, this is not a time to relax the cautionary steps we have been or should be following. There is no magic date involved here. Rather, best guesses are based on data as to when the state has peaked or will peak, thus beginning its downhill trek in terms of the number of coronavirus cases and deaths. If you're looking for a "best if used by" date on the pandemic, you're mistaken. Whether it's the end of May or first of June when most restrictions are lifted, the reality is physical distancing will remain the norm, both for indoor activities such as shopping and outdoor activities, such as festivals and sporting events. Expect to see face masks worn for quite a while, something that is rather customary in some countries - pandemic or no pandemic.
At the risk of sounding like a recording loop, continue frequent hand washing, using hand sanitizers and disinfectants - on surfaces, such as countertops, not internally - and go beyond polite when it comes to invading other people's personal spaces.
We'll get there, bit by bit, but let's not take a mob approach and rush the doors to normalcy as though normalcy is a department store about to open for Black Friday shoppers.
The Post and Courier
Are legislators' special earmarks in budget spent ethically?
South Carolina legislators have a long tradition of slipping money into the state budget not just to take care of needs in their districts but also to take care of friends and associates.
Then-Sen. Marshall Williams summed up a still widely held view in 1988, when he told a reporter he was proud of using his influence to get $105,000 in road paving done around his church. "If I could not do for my church what I've done for other churches, they ought to turn me out," he said, just months before he became Senate president pro tempore.
We've frequently had questions about the merits of these special earmarks, as they're called - the term pork-barrel spending is frequently appropriate. But those questions have intensified after lawmakers started tucking earmarked money into the state budget in ways that make it nearly impossible for the public and even most other legislators to learn about until after it has been spent. It often comes to light only if a lawmaker or recipient brags about it or reporters spend days, weeks or even months digging it out.
Columbia's State newspaper just unearthed another trove of earmarks that both underscores the problem and raises a host of new questions.
At issue is $5.5 million in state funding that has gone since 2007 to the foundation of Columbia's Bible Way Church, whose pastor is Sen. Darrell Jackson. It includes at least $1.5 million in earmarks in budget bills that Sen. Jackson voted for. Nearly $500,000 of that money went to build a neighborhood across the street from the church, which is in an underdeveloped area near Columbia's southernmost tip. The newspaper reported that more than $100,000 was spent for something other than the drainage work it was earmarked for, and the remaining $350,000 couldn't be accounted for.
Now maybe, as Sen. Jackson told the newspaper, this was a great state investment in an impoverished community, which will yield more economic benefit than what we hand out routinely to out-of-state businesses we're trying to lure to South Carolina.
Maybe, in fact probably, the Democratic senator is right when he says state law didn't require him to recuse himself from voting on the earmarks or to report them on annual economic disclosure reports; the standards for such reporting are not exactly high.
Maybe he's right when he says there weren't a lot of restrictions on how the money could be spent: That's also a hallmark of earmarks and, in too many cases, of economic-development incentives.
Maybe he's right when he says it was open knowledge around the Statehouse that the Midlands Community Development Corp. was an arm of his church. Even if that were so, it wouldn't mean much if the recipient of the money wasn't identified in the state budget bill.
But assume he's right about all of that. That doesn't excuse what happened with Bible Way's foundation. It merely highlights what's wrong with the way state legislators spend so much state money: secretly, with few requirements for what sort of projects can be funded and fewer if any reporting requirements. And with no penalties when the few requirements are ignored.
The spending on Sen. Jackson's church's foundation might be no different than a lot of other spending on private enterprises. But that doesn't mean it was handled appropriately, even if it was for a worthy cause. It simply makes him the latest poster child for all sorts of spending practices that are long overdue for reform.
The Times and Democrat
Mosquitoes unlikely to carry coronavirus
The debate is still on about how the coronavirus is spread. How much do masks protect? Is the virus airborne?
Amid the coronavirus emergency, our locale, the state and much of the Southeast have had other issues with which to deal. Severe and deadly weather has been a consistent recent threat. With the bad weather comes rain - rain on top of a very wet winter. Look around you. You'll still see water standing in places that customarily would be dry as hot weather approaches.
And that means mosquitoes. There already is a healthy crop this year. And many, many more are on the way. Mosquitoes are known as disease carriers, which leads to a logical question: Can they be carriers of the coronavirus?
There is no for-sure answer - the same as with so many questions in present times. But there is good news.
Scientists around the world are assessing if mosquitoes pose a risk in terms of COVID-19 transmission but, so far, there is no evidence to support this idea and, for many reasons, it is extremely unlikely mosquitoes are able to transmit the virus, a Purdue University professor says.
Catherine Hill, a professor of entomology and vector biology, said, "It is early days, but we're always looking at things from a risk-management and assessment perspective, and I think the risk is very low."
COVID-19 belongs to the coronavirus family, and other viruses, including SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), in this family are not transmitted through mosquitoes, she said. "There is no biological reason to believe another member of the family would be an exception."
Hill has a few messages to help inform and allay fears:
1. While research is still ongoing into primary routes of transmission, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a "respiratory virus" and is primarily transmitted by "aerosol" route; sneezing/coughing and touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face. Although it has been detected at low levels in the blood, there is no evidence it can be transmitted via bite from a mosquito.
2. It's true that mosquitoes can transmit some viruses such as dengue and Zika, but they don't transmit all viruses. For example, viruses like HIV, Ebola and coronaviruses.
3. For a mosquito to become infected with SARS-CoV-2, it would have to feed on the blood of an infected person, acquire the virus, which would have to pass into the midgut of the mosquito, infect the salivary glands, replicate and then be passed to another person during a second blood meal. This whole process takes 10-14 days, and during this time a virus would have to overcome physical and physiological barriers. There is no biological evidence that any virus in the coronavirus family is capable of achieving this feat. Transmission is a remote possibility.
Before you relax and go back to focusing on more known dangers from COVID-19, Hill reminds all that mosquitoes pose risks for other severe illnesses: Zika, West Nile virus and Lyme disease. "That's one area of concern, that if everyone's bandwidth is taken up with COVID-19, there won't be enough attention afforded to these other diseases."
Yet even those threats could be reduced as people stay closer to home and spend more time indoors. This year could see a decrease in vector-borne diseases simply because COVID-19 precautions will limit the public's general exposure.
Still, professor Hill has the right advice: "If you are walking or gardening or generally spending time outdoors, try to avoid activities during peak mosquito-biting times (dusk/dawn), avoid tick habitat, wear long pants/shirt and make sure to wear repellent. It really does help."
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