Only fools have certainty

in Voices by

By David Taub

For at least a couple of months now, the country’s most exalted experts on COVID-19, Drs. Fauci and Birx, have been singing the same song. Physical distance is the best and surest modality for preventing exposure to and infection with the novel coronavirus.

Regrettably, some of our state leaders, and many of our national leaders have been rather more lackadaisical in their acceptance of this simple common-sense approach to prophylactic protections.

All of our country’s medical/health authorities agree that: (1) we do not have anywhere near enough COVID-19 test kits available, (2) we are running out of nasal swabs to obtain the test mucus, and that (3) the country as a whole is woefully unprepared to undertake the massive testing necessary to ensure it is safe to relax our physical distance models.

Currently, persons must show COVID-19 symptoms to receive a test, notwithstanding that asymptomatic persons who are actually infected may have already transmitted the virus. South Carolina health officials estimate there may be as many as 1,216 undiagnosed cases in Beaufort county and 21,821 statewide. Have you read Catch-22?

A local example puts such truth to power: As of April 15, the data for South Carolina was: 3,656 infections; 107 deaths (a statewide mortality rate of 2.7 percent). For Beaufort County, there were 205 cases of infections and 7 deaths (4 percent mortality rate).

Compared to New York State’s rates, it would appear that we are not in dire trouble. But this is a misleading comparison, because on a population basis, South Carolina’s current infection rate per 100,000 of population is 72. This proportional death rate metric is greater than that experienced by the states of my native Texas, Ohio, California, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

This local story should make us sit up and take notice.

On Easter Sunday, a close friend experienced some coronavirus symptoms. He logged onto MUSC’s website and took a “virtual” test for COVID-19, which indicated that he should get tested.

It listed locations nearest to Beaufort where testing could be obtained. Beaufort Memorial Hospital was NOT on that list, but Hampton County hospital and MUSC were; it is unclear to BMH officials why they were not listed.

Nevertheless, my friend called BMH and was told to come over and they would test him. He hot-footed it over to an empty BMH ER. It took him close to three hours to get the paper work and nasal sample obtained. He was told he had to stay in quarantine in his home until the test results were obtained, and that this would take five to seven DAYS, since the results had to be sent to an outside laboratory for analysis.

BMH did not have any rapid-results COVID-19 test kits; BMH had ordered them, but the federal government diverted their order to New York City. Out of compassionate concern for my friend’s health, BMH called the lab and got his results on Wednesday (less than three days). It was NEGATIVE. BMH is ready, willing and able to support this county’s citizens in addressing the coronavirus pandemic. Thank God for the dedication of our local medical heroes.

Exercising meaningful leadership is a difficult and exacting task, made all the more challenging when onerous and arduous but critically important decisions must be made in the public interest. Effective government that well serves its citizenry dictates no less, most especially so in times of crisis, such as we face today.

Respect and confidence in a government results when “good government” contributes to the well-being of its citizenry. Democratic government cannot survive without the public’s confidence.

Fortunately, our county and municipal governments have shown strong leadership in steadfastly advising that we must adhere to a policy of physical disengagement as the best available preventative remedy.

How is South Carolina’s leadership addressing the health and medical needs of its citizens to mitigate the ravages of this menacing enemy, an evil that discriminates against no one?  We are all at risk of sickness and death. Have such historically virtuous notions of wisdom, accountability and steadfast leadership become passé in our convoluted modern life? Nay, I believe that during the greatest existential challenge facing our country in over a century, these virtues are mandatory.  Paul Keating, erstwhile Australian Prime Minister, provides the litmus test: “Leadership is not about being nice.  It’s about being right and being strong.”   Should we require that our State and National leaders to be right and strong?  Of course, we should!  

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999, and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate Judge from 2010 to 2015.  He may be contacted at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.