How did we get so sick so fast? In a word, tourism, especially in Charleston, erstwhile “Best City” in America, and north along the coast to Myrtle Beach — now among the unsafest places in the United States and, therefore, the world.
There, you’ll see very few people wearing masks, and social distancing is a joke.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, though he has urged citizens to wear masks in public, as he does, has stopped short of making them mandatory. As he has said, how could the state possibly enforce such a mandate?
Stubbornness and rebelliousness come naturally to my fellow South Carolina natives, a large percentage of whom rely on tourism to pay the bills. But summertime has brought fresh challenges along with rotating crops of close-contact human bodies. A quick survey of license plates along the Grand Strand is testament to the state’s appeal to vacationers.
Still, out-of-staters don’t get all the blame. Locals are guilty of not taking the virus seriously enough, in part because for a long while they seemed immune from the terrible outbreaks elsewhere. For several months, Georgetown County, where I’ve been hiding out since February, had just a handful of covid-19 cases and only the occasional death. Graduation, beach-week parties and Memorial Day weekend changed all that. Today, this county has an estimated 724 cases, while bordering Horry County, home to Myrtle Beach, has more than 5,200, with numbers increasing dramatically by the day.
South Carolina now has more cases per capita than most countries, and no one thinks things will get better any time soon. Some Northern states, including New York, have imposed a two-week quarantine for visitors returning from South Carolina. And we’re just getting rolling.
Over the July 4 weekend, around 4,000 boaters from 11 states convened on Lake Murray, due west of Columbia, for a pro-Trump boat parade. And now comes the annual windfall event — Myrtle Beach Bike Week. It was postponed in May because of the pandemic, but nothing will stop these engine-revving partyers now. Revelers are expected to fill Highway 17 as they gather for beach time, rallies and, reputedly, the best biker bars this side of the Mississippi. Wait until they get wind of the state’s order Friday to shut down alcohol sales at 11 p.m.
What is one to make of such insanity? Well, tracks, for starters. My moving van is almost packed. But a smart leader might recognize what these various in-denial groups share — a lust for freedom and distrust of government — and forge an appeal to those instincts. As Bike Week founder Sonny Copeland recently told the Daily Beast, “We don’t need the damn government to tell us what to do. . . . We’re smart enough to know how to take care of ourselves, distance when we ride, and we have common sense. . . . We’re not a bunch of teenagers who are going to hug and kiss on the beach. This is about riding motorcycles, being in the wind.”
Well, okay, let’s work with that. What’s needed is an alternative narrative that makes sense to that rebel-biker spirit. By not following health guidelines, which makes tighter restrictions more likely, conservatives are actually threatening freedom and weakening the underlying structures of the free market. Masks are economic drivers.
As a Christian matter, disregarding guidelines is the opposite of professed care for the common good. And what of the Christian belief that the body is a temple in which his or her Holy Spirit lives? Not caring for the self and the common good, thus, can be seen as un-Christian.
A comparison could also be made to another shocking, illness-related period in our history, when then-U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a man of deep Christian faith, scandalized conservatives as the AIDS crisis intensified by urging non-monogamous, sexually active men and women to use condoms for HIV prevention.
The conservative Christian world nearly toppled from its axis.
Today, it’s shocking that such a minimal instruction was controversial. And, someday, our inheritors likely will be aghast that so many Americans refused to don a mask and social distance to protect themselves and others from a potentially life-threatening disease.