If Governor Henry McMaster chooses to face voters in November of 2022, one major issue will loom over his re-election bid: his cowardly handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina. His behavior had dire consequences for thousands of South Carolinians, and it was particularly damaging to the state’s Black population.
No political spin McMaster can conjure will erase the deadly facts of the pandemic in South Carolina.
As of March, 2021, the chief executives of 33 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico mandated the wearing of masks in public. McMaster never did, saying such a mandate was not enforceable.
While he urged South Carolinians to wear masks, he never put any political muscle behind this request. He passed the buck to individual cities, towns and counties to mandate such a requirement. This was hardly a profile in courage.
Nor did McMaster think he needed help from his Department of Health and Environmental Control. He lost the head of the DHEC early in the crisis, in June of 2020. He didn’t bother to find a replacement for six months as the pandemic raged on.
He also lost his top health official in September of 2020. She left after just six months for a similar job in Ohio. He refused to promote his chief epidemiologist, Linda Bell, into the job. He has had a frosty relationship with Bell throughout the pandemic; given her expertise, she should have been his chief ally.
In short, it’s been chaotic in the DHEC throughout the pandemic. That is McMaster’s fault, and it helped to produce a public health disaster for the citizens of the state.
Consider these statistics:
More than 10% of tested South Carolinians contracted COVID, or 10,388 cases per 100,000 residents. That ranks South Carolina as the 12th worst state in its rate of infection.
Nor has South Carolina been efficient in its administration of the vaccine. At this writing, 13.5% of Americans on average have been fully vaccinated. In South Carolina that figure is 12.8%, which puts us in the company of such other poorly performing states as Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Arkansas.
Nationally 24.9% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In South Carolina that figure is only 23%.
South Carolina’s death rate from COVID is 175 persons per 100,000 residents. That ranks South Carolina 18th on the deadliest list of states.
For South Carolina’s Black citizens COVID has been even more lethal. The percentage of Blacks in South Carolina’s population is 26%; but 32% of those who died from COVID were Black. (The White population is 67%, but only 62% of the deaths were White people.)
This spread of 6% between the size of the Black population (26%) and the number of deaths in that population (32%) is the fourth worst in the U.S. In Louisiana the spread was 7%. In Michigan and NY it was 9%. In most states the racial differences of the victims have been small or negligible. This suggests at best indifference on McMaster’s part to the particular impact of COVID on the Black population.
McMaster as Governor has been focused almost exclusively on economic development issues (and of course his cultural touchstones of abortion and guns). Can McMaster at least argue that his AWOL performance during the COVID crisis produced a better economic outcome for the state? No.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in January of 2021 our unemployment rate was 5.3%. That ranked us 23rd among the states, roughly in the middle of the pack. Clearly McMaster’s handling of COVID did not produce a particularly impressive economic outcome, but it did produce illness and death out of proportion to our population.
His performance in managing the pandemic is not a reality McMaster can duck when out campaigning. His incompetent performance on these life and death matters should be front and center as his opponents attack his sorry record.
Blogger David M. Rubin is the former Dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He is a former columnist for the Syracuse Post-Standard and an expert on First Amendment law (speech and press). He lives in Summerville.