South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, Aug. 14, 2020


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Index-Journal

Aug. 11

Food trucks should be discussed as a great alternative

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us that getting a bite to eat isn't what it used to be.

Grab 'n' go, curbside pickup has paved the way of the future, and owners of long-established restaurants that catered almost exclusively to dine-in customers found themselves having to improvise if they wanted to remain in business. They have done so by getting on board with curbside pickup and outdoor dining arrangements.

So it should be no surprise that talk of food trucks has been plated up for Greenwood city and county councils to discuss in an effort to land on a plan that feeds their needs to regulate and collect fees while feeding the needs of the mobile businesses and their hungry customers.

Food trucks are hardly a new idea, but they're a relatively unknown around the county, unless you were lured by the smell of hot dogs and chili on the way in or out of Lowe's on the bypass. Or you find yourself taking to social media asking friends where the heck that mobile donut and pretzel truck is on any given day.

Elsewhere, food trucks are kind of a norm. They're part of the landscape of just about any outdoor festival, and they're at breweries dotting this and neighboring states. And, frankly, they're a great alternative.

Fat Daddy's and others are eyeing this option, not as a reason to shut down their brick-and-mortar locations, but rather as an option to get their food to hungry customers in other areas.

So, city and county leadership, please do sit down and break bread together over this topic. But don't get too greedy when it comes to your share of the gravy. Remember, we want these and other businesses to thrive, not be taxed and fee-d (see what we did there, don't you?) to death.

The Times and Democrat

Aug. 9

Peaceful protests are something S.C. should be proud of

After a violent weekend in May, protests in South Carolina aimed at police tactics, racial inequality, monuments and other issues have been largely peaceful.

That is something about which our community and state can be proud. And it is not by accident.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler made clear from the outset of unrest after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police that he believes protest is justified in addressing social injustices. But he has been equally adamant that protest is to be peaceful. There is no room for violence, rioting and destruction - and Orangeburg has been largely free of such.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin also offered support for peaceful protest but also has been adamant that violence in the name of protesting is not acceptable.

Two months after the initial protests, both mayors recently addressed how they see things now and going forward.

In an interview with The Times and Democrat, Butler said protesters are justified in taking action. "They should be heard because their cause is real."

Addressing injustices of the past is necessary, Butler said. "I believe citizens have the right to protest but in a peaceful manner to address what they consider as police brutality. Social injustice has long been an issue for people of color and other minorities. The time is right to address past injustices."

In a speech this past week to the Columbia Rotary Club, Benjamin said he met with protesters after the initial wave of violence in Columbia. He said empathy for protesters is one factor in curbing further violence. Details of his address were reported by The State newspaper of Columbia.

"It really began a conversation of 'Tell me why you're here, tell me your stories,'" Benjamin said. "We don't spend enough time talking to each other; we spend so much time yelling at each other."

He tried to convey, the mayor said, "that we're in this together - that's the only way we are going to get out of this."

Both mayors also made clear they think police play an important and continuing role.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all situation," Butler said of actions by some cities to defund police departments. "We have not had any discussion about defunding (the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety). The city is working with the chief to ensure officers are conducting themselves in accordance with policy and regulations."

Benjamin said law enforcement was vital in restoring calm in Columbia and keeping protests peaceful.

He credited a "fantastic relationship" with Columbia police chief Skip Holbrook and also praised his relationships with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon as helping calm things down in May.

"We have some of the very best law enforcement the country has to offer right here in the Midlands," Benjamin said. "They work aggressively to build community ties; they invest in community policing when things seem to be going OK."

Those departments have officers who are "public guardians," Benjamin said, but also "warriors. We still live in a world in which you need good, solid law enforcement."

And in that world we need more elected officials with the approach of the Orangeburg and Columbia mayors.

Cooperation and communication are vital in protecting individual rights and in protecting people and property.

The Post and Courier

Aug. 8

Coronavirus cases in nursing homes and less scrutiny

It's inevitable that COVID-19 infections would be much more deadly inside nursing homes than just about anywhere you can imagine because the residents are the very definition of a vulnerable population: elderly, overwhelmingly, if not entirely, suffering from chronic diseases and generally frail.

And in fact, nursing home residents accounted for 27% of the COVID-19 deaths in South Carolina through the end of July, even though they make up less than 0.5% of the state's population.

What's not inevitable is that COVID-19 would make its way into nursing homes - and keep making its way into nursing homes after they were sealed off to visitors in mid-March. That lockdown should have made those facilities the safest places for the frail elderly.

Instead, just the opposite happened: More than 10% of S.C. nursing home residents had tested positive as of July 28 - a quarter of them in July. That's five times the portion of the general population that's tested positive.

And it might be even worse because, as The Post and Courier's Joseph Cranney reports, South Carolina doesn't require nursing homes to test residents or employees, even after they've come into contact with infected people. We have no idea how many do, because three-and-a-half months after DHEC finally agreed to name nursing homes where residents and employees tested positive or died from COVID-19, it's still awful dark inside those facilities.

Every day, DHEC reports the number of South Carolinians who were tested for COVID-19 along with the number who tested positive and from those numbers derives the positive test rate.

But DHEC's twice-weekly reports on nursing home infections and deaths don't give us the total number of tests - only the number of positives.

That means we don't have a clue whether nursing homes are testing employees and residents who need to be tested. For all we know, some facilities with outbreaks have just stopped testing, and the infections continued to mount unreported.

The data darkness is compounded by Gov. Henry McMaster's continued lockout of family and friends. The nursing home quarantine made good sense in March when we thought the first wave would last a few weeks, maybe a month or two. But clearly it hasn't kept the virus out.

What it has done is isolate the elderly at a time they need the support of loved ones the most. And it has shielded nursing homes from scrutiny. So we have no idea specifically why the virus has been able to invade so many nursing homes. Are they not testing employees routinely? Not following safety protocols? What?

While there are some excellent nursing homes, in South Carolina and across the country, there are also some that are far short of excellent, and locking out friends and family makes it much easier for them to hide all manner of carelessness and infection, along with abuse and neglect.

We'll never be able to make all nursing homes entirely safe because they're run by human beings. But we can do more to keep COVID-19 from infiltrating them.

That starts with information: DHEC should report not just the number of positive tests but the number of total tests, and the dates of those tests, just like it does with the general population.

The state should consider requiring routine testing of employees and mandating isolation and testing after one of them tests positive.

And Mr. McMaster needs to find a way to join the 35 other states that have allowed some visitors back in on a limited basis, with careful precautions, as Texas and Washington did on Thursday.

Yes, that would increase the risk of infection. But given the devastating consequences of abuse and neglect in nursing homes and how ineffective the lockdown has been, allowing them to continue to operate without outside scrutiny is also dangerous.

And how much more dangerous and cruel is it to keep our most fragile members of society in a virtual prison, living out their lives cut off from their loved ones?