By Greg Oliver
COLUMBIA — Two members of the Pickens County legislative delegation have sent a letter to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster asking him to impose a stay-at-home order for residents to combat the spread of COVID-19.
State Rep. Gary Clary of Clemson and State Rep. Neal Collins of Easley said in a two-page letter that they applaud the governor’s decision to close schools March 15 when there were just 28 known positives. But the pair added that 105 new positives announced Monday and 44 more on Tuesday have resulted in “over 12 times the known positives than we did just nine days ago, totaling 342 known positive cases.”
The representatives said in their letter that hospitals will be unable to handle “this exponential growth for too much longer” and asked that the governor act “with urgency.”
“We live in extreme times, and those extreme times require extreme measures,” Clary said Wednesday. “From where we are, we believe it would be a prudent course of action.”
The legislators said the stay-at-home order would include the following:
• closing of all businesses, except essential stores and services;
• the closing of businesses such as nonprofits, day care facilities, gyms and churches;
• closing K-12 schools, colleges, universities and technical schools for the rest of the school year;
• implementation of emergency day care sites for essential government and store employees;
• discouraging interaction outside of immediate family and encouraging solo recreation;
• delaying the June state primaries and all local elections until August;
• encouraging the General Assembly to use surplus funds for public health and basic needs; and
• removing any obstacles to conduct business remotely.
The stay-at-home order would not include such essential services as first responders, banks, pharmacies and grocery stores.
Clary acknowledges that the order could damage the state’s economy and local businesses, but added, “If we don’t do this, the impact on the economy could be greater.”
While the retired judge said he would love to say he was wrong for proposing such action two to three months from now, he said that isn’t the case right now.
“This is better than sticking your head in the sand and doing nothing,” Clary said.
Clary said he had yet to hear back from the governor’s office.
“Hopefully, they are considering these issues and suggestions,” he said.
Collins said epidemiologists have told lawmakers that the growth of the virus will continue to double every two to three days. Therefore, he added that the only way to stop it “is to distance ourselves.”
“I think this is the next logical step,” Collins said. “This is something definitely in the toolbox as a last resort, but we’re at that stage now.”
But other local members of the General Assembly aren’t as convinced.
“I think right now it may be a little premature,” Rep. Bill Sandifer of Seneca said. “People are exhibiting caution, keeping a safe distance and working in their homes. As we follow the pattern of this pandemic, it may certainly become a necessity, but I don’t think we’re quite at that point yet.”
State Rep. Davey Hiott of Pickens said he feels the governor has a better handle on the situation than lawmakers.
“When he feels the time is right, he will make that decision,” Hiott said. “He’s the one making the call and is relying on experts in making his decisions. The people of South Carolina elected Henry McMaster because they have confidence in him, and we need to remain confident that he will do the right thing.”
State Sen. Thomas Alexander of Walhalla agrees.
“The governor continues to be in contact with health officials and continues to monitor where we are in South Carolina,” Alexander said. “He will work with health officials to do what is necessary for citizens.”
State Sen. Rex Rice of Easley said he doesn’t know the answer.
“What we don’t need is a false sense of security into thinking this thing isn’t as bad as we thought, but we need to keep our social distancing,” Rice said. “I think the governor needs to make the call on this because, obviously, he has the information.
“We need to get our economy going when we can, but whether we need to do a stay-at-home order, I can’t answer that.”
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