Some of you will be as bothered to read this as we are to write it.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson made a decision last week supporting a precedent set back in the time when the top box office movies were “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Back to the Future.”
The AG’s decision was “…local government cannot exercise the emergency powers delegated to the Governor….” In order words, cities and counties in South Carolina cannot mandate or enforce shelter-in-place guidelines because that’s the governor’s job.
The movie irony is not lost on us. After a few cities started taking things into their own hands, the statewide empire decided to strike back with the law.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s messages that he’s mandated over the last few weeks. He’s asking us to practice new phrases that have, as of three weeks ago, become part of the daily vernacular. Exercise social distancing, stop dining-in at restaurants, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and avoid clumping into groups of three or more.
Locally, however, many of us continue to observe individuals, whether standing in line at Dollar General, working out at their favorite local gym or joining their regular foursome on the golf course, who truly are not heeding the governor’s advisory.
At some point, administrators in townships, municipalities and counties will recognize that the safety and well-being of their constituents continues to be at risk and more stringent rules are needed. That’s what the cities of Charleston and Columbia decided last week. Whether it was seen as taking a political position or rightly taking their local citizenry’s health and future into their own hands is up for discussion.
Even today, if Aiken, North Augusta, Graniteville or Aiken County as a whole determined that the only logical mandate would be to issue an emergency shelter in place and only allow essential services to be conducted within the defined area, they would not have the power to enforce the order. And, based on Wilson’s conclusion “…should be aware that any unauthorized exercise of such emergency powers could subject these political subdivisions to liability at the behest of a private citizen with requisite legal standing.”
News out last week that the health of hundreds of the more than 10,000 employees at the Savannah River Site are being monitored, as well as the (to date) seven Aiken County cases of COVID-19, should be enough to incite our residents to follow Gov. McMaster’s orders. If not, consider this: Local hospitals are concerned and expect severe equipment shortages, limiting the resources to help the most vulnerable in our community.
Those are the facts that our city and county officials are seeing. Is the data enough to persuade the governor to hear and empower our local and county officials to take more extreme measures for their respective communities? Based on the curve, only time will tell.
The movie irony is still not lost on us. The sooner Aiken County residents comply with healthy guidelines, the sooner we can get “Back to the Future” – the wonderful, glorious future of Aiken that we’d planned as recently as three weeks ago.