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I want my life back

July 16, 2020

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I want my life back.

I want to see movies again on the big screen. I want the public library to reopen. I want to eat at bustling restaurants. I want to travel. I want my grandchildren to be able to safely return to school. I want to see my family and friends close up—not from six feet away.

Since South Carolina is now a COVID-19 hotspot, however, I’m not expecting my wishes to come true any time soon. We reopened the state too early, and now we’re paying a painful price.

South Carolina is setting new daily records for coronavirus cases, and the state now has more virus cases per capita than most countries. Deaths are increasing, with the death toll rising more than 100 percent in the last month.

More than one in five South Carolinians are testing positive for the virus. Our intensive care units are nearing capacity.

And yet, Gov. Henry McMaster refuses to issue a statewide mandatory mask order, even though wearing masks is one of the few tools we have to fight the virus. Bars and other venues where crowds gather together in tight spaces remain open. Why?

Because of the uncontrolled spread here, if I wanted to visit friends in New York this summer, I’d have to fill out mandatory forms with travel and contact information or face a $2,000 fine.

And if I wanted to travel abroad? I’d be turned away from countries in the European Union because of their well-founded fear that I— and my fellow Americans —would spew the virus over there.

We are now a pariah nation.

It didn’t have to be this way. In nearly every advanced county with good leadership, the virus has been tamed, at least for now. In New Zealand, for example, life is basically back to normal. “Everyone is back to work and back to school,” says my Kiwi friend Penny Dean. “The restaurants are full, and we have no travel restrictions within the country. No one needs to wear a mask.”

New Zealand, and its competent female president, fought back fast and furiously against the virus. The borders were clamped shut. A carefully monitored, no-excuses lockdown was put into effect for six weeks. Schools were closed. All businesses were shut except supermarkets and pharmacies. Restaurants were totally shuttered; not even takeout food was available. People could walk no more than two kilometers from home when they exercised.

It worked. New Zealand, which has declared victory over the virus, suffered a total of 1,536 cases and 22 deaths. And in South Carolina, a state of nearly equal population to New Zealand? We are moving toward more than 60,000 known cases and more than 1,000 deaths. And counting.

Will family vacation trips this summer lead to more surges? Will the reopening of huge theme parks such as Disney World cause more spikes? What will happen if university and K-12 students fully return to their campuses in August?

When will we get our lives back? Have we given up? Do Americans lack the gumption and good will to defeat this deadly virus? Will we ever get any meaningful leadership from the State House and the White House?

So many questions and so few answers— except to wear a mask, wash our hands, avoid large gatherings, continue to socially distance, and anxiously await a vaccine. And most importantly, demand more action from our leaders.

Collins-Jan-of-self-1

Jan Collins is a Columbia-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).