South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, Aug. 20, 2021


(Columbia) The State

Aug. 17

Don't forget state's residents who served, died in Afghanistan

On the morning of Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the World Trade Center crumbled before our eyes, the U.S. Senate voted 98 to 0 in favor of "a joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States."

That night, the House of Representatives voted 420 to 1 in favor of the same measure with only Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) voting no.

And so Operation Enduring Freedom, later known as Operation Freedom's Sentinel, rightly or wrongly began in Afghanistan.

"After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces (from Afghanistan)," President Biden said Monday.

The cost of the war is in some ways measured by time - it lasted 20 years - and in dollars - an estimated $2 trillion.

The human cost is more difficult to measure.

What happens next for people living under the now firm control of the Taliban remains a terrible uncertainty. Those that managed to flee also face tremendous difficulties as refugees in foreign lands.

But we do know the lives already lost.

According to the Associated Press, 2,448 American service members were killed in Afghanistan through April of this year.

The list of the dead also includes 3,846 U.S. contractors; 66,000 Afghan national military and police members; 1,144 other allied service members, including from other NATO member states; 47,245 Afghan civilians, 51,191 Taliban and other opposition members; 444 aid workers; and 72 journalists.

The total number of dead connected to South Carolina has not been fully compiled, but the state's National Guard does keep a running list of its members killed while serving overseas.

It lists the following members as those killed in Afghanistan:

Sgt. Stephen High, 45

Spc. Chrystal Stout, 23

Sgt. Edward Philpot, 38

Staff Sgt. James Bullard, 28

Sgt. Shawn Hill, 37

Sgt. David Leimbach, 38

Staff Sgt. Willie Harley, 48

Sgt. Luther Rabon, 32

Sgt. John David Meador II, 36

1st Lt. Ryan Davis Rawl, 30

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bradford Thomas, 30

1st Lt. Trevarius Bowman, 25

These service members did not vote for the resolutions passed in 2001. Consider that 1st Lt. Bowman would have been just about 6 years old when the towers fell.

Yet, they went to a place they had likely never seen to serve their country.

Remember them.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier

Aug. 17

Mask law is already forcing kids back to remote learning. Rescind it now

Back in June, it looked like South Carolina had COVID-19 largely under control. Even those of us who were horrified when Gov. Henry McMaster ordered schools to allow unmasked children into class for the end of the 2020-21 school year didn't really expect big problems when this new school year started.

So for legislators who worried about angering that small minority of voters who think masks are useless (if they even believe COVID-19 is real), it seemed safe to pass a law prohibiting mask mandates in public schools.

Then vaccinations slowed to a trickle, and the far more contagious delta variant sent infections soaring.

Thankfully, the new COVID-19 wave isn't killing many people. Thankfully, too, most people who get infected still don't get very sick, if they even realize they're infected. But even with nearly half of eligible South Carolinians vaccinated, our hospitals are again starting to cancel nonemergency procedures. They're running out of space in the ICUs. They're running out of ventilators. They're running out of staff. In short, we're rapidly getting back to where we were before the vaccine, when we were taking extraordinary actions to save our hospitals from collapse.

Meantime, the school districts that have already opened are feeling the impact of bringing back students in the midst of a pandemic without being allowed to utilize the commonsense precautions that kept our schools so safe last school year.

Just nine days into the school year, Pickens County School District announced Friday it was temporarily reverting to all-virtual classes after 142 students and 28 staff tested positive for COVID-19 - forcing 634 students into quarantine because they were in close contact with the infected.

As we learned over the past two years, remote learning is disastrous for kids' educational, social and emotional development - not to mention how much it disrupts our economy as parents have to stay home with them.

The good news is that very few kids get very sick, if they get sick at all, from COVID-19. An even smaller portion of people who are vaccinated get very sick, if they get sick at all. And all teachers and all students 12 and older have the option of getting vaccinated.

But about half the kids in public schools don't have that option, and some kids do get extremely sick from COVID-19, as do a tiny fraction of people who are fully vaccinated. The more people who are infected, the more those tiny percentages add up in real numbers.

The even bigger problem is those quarantines: Everybody who isn't vaccinated is supposed to isolate for up to 14 days after they're in "close contact" with someone who's infected, which DHEC defines as spending a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more within 3 feet of someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

That means we're facing the very real possibility that, just months after the S.C. Legislature finally passed a law requiring schools to allow all students back into the classroom, those same schools will be forced to send tens of thousands of students home to quarantine, possibly multiple times in a year, because public schools are not allowed to slow the virus spread by requiring masks.

School districts could reasonably reject the Pickens County approach of sending everybody back to remote learning, and they can - and should - act more aggressively than many plan to about testing and social distancing. (Another thing they need to do is refuse to create their own potential super-spreader events like the freshman convocation that Clemson President Jim Clements bragged about on Friday, with pictures showing a sea of unmasked students packed together in about a sixth of the basketball arena, rather than being spread out.)

Yet even if our school districts do all the smart things they legally can do, their only option to avoid sending huge numbers of kids home likely is to ignore the isolation recommendations of DHEC, the CDC and medical organizations - which they absolutely must not do.

Those awful options are why, as The Post and Courier's Libby Stanford reported Sunday, Porter-Gaud, Ashley Hall, Mason Preparatory, Charleston Day School and University School of The Lowcountry in Mount Pleasant are among the growing number of private schools across the state that are requiring students and staff to wear masks.

Fortunately, state legislators can solve this problem, by simply rescinding the ban on mask requirements. And they should.

If they don't, they will be responsible for forcing the kids who can least afford it into another year of remote learning, and they will encourage schools to engage in lawlessness in order to serve the greater good. While we would not condone anyone violating state law, the situation we face is dangerous enough that we couldn't condemn good-faith efforts to test work-arounds that the S.C. Supreme Court might decide do not violate the law, such as using federal COVID-19 emergency funds to hire new staff whose job would be to create and enforce a mask mandate.

Lawmakers need to reiterate their commitment to ensuring that all students can attend in-person classes and acknowledge that COVID-19's delta variant has made it impossible to keep infection numbers down without universal masking.

Senate President Harvey Peeler and House Speaker Jay Lucas need to call the House and Senate back into session now, rather than waiting until mid-September, to take action. And if they can't get a quorum of lawmakers to return that soon, they need to urge school districts to ignore the law until they are able to change it in mid-September, in order to keep children in the classroom where they need to be.

The (Greenwood) Index-Journal

Aug. 14

Is thinning the herd better than herd immunity?

"It's unnatural to coddle and promote the weak and infirm. Masks are for criminals and this world is for the strong and virile, that deserve to not wear masks and make their own choices." - a commenter on Monday's Index-Journal's Facebook post of the AP story about Gov. Henry McMaster's press conference in which the governor again stressed there is no need to mandate face masks in public schools.

Apparently thinning the herd is preferred by him and other like-minded people over achieving herd immunity.

Herd immunity can best be accomplished when the majority of people are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Thinning the herd, however, is easily accomplished by not vaccinating or proper wearing of face masks, both of which will only help spread, not contain, the virus.

What caring, compassionate and loving human being would suggest that the weak and sick should, for all intents and purposes, die when there are safeguards available to prevent their sickness and death? That's not what is suggested by this comment? Read it again. "We should not coddle and promote the weak and infirm" clearly suggests letting nature or, in this case, the virus take its course. Darwinian survival of the fittest at its best, right?

Unless they are of age - 12 and older - to receive the vaccination, the only safeguard school children have against spreading and getting the virus at this point is a face mask.

We would have to ask this commenter and those who agree with him what they think about the aging process and what should be done with him and others as they become weak or sick with a debilitating disease in their latter years.

Following the line of thinking proposed that we should not do anything to protect the children via mask mandates, it seems reasonable that he and others should receive no health care treatment and, instead, be allowed to die. Preferably at home, by the way, where they will not take up hospital space for the younger people who are not so weak and not so sick, for they might yet get well and remain productive citizens.

Will he and others yet stand by their thin-the-herd approach to the pandemic? Or will they have a change of heart and suggest they deserve to be coddled, to be given the best medical care, the best chances at warding off sickness and disease that can be offered? As one reader shared this week, "The opposite of love is not hate, it is unenlightened selfishness." That quote is attributed to Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States.