Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Life Goes On

By David G. Young

Charleston, SC, November 16, 2020 --  

Pandemic or not, many Americans are living normal lives to the extent that authorities allow them.

The chorus of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” rang out from the cover band at Henry’s on Saturday night just like normal times.  The crowded bar was filled with your people sipping beer as they enjoyed the music — an ordinary scene in these parts, and in most parts of America just a year ago.  Yet this was not a year ago and these were anything but ordinary times -- nearly a quarter of a million Americans are dead from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Six weeks ago on October 2, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster lifted restrictions on restaurants, allowing them to return to full capacity provided patrons wear masks when not seated, and alcohol sales are discontinued at 11 pm.  “South Carolina is open for business,” he declared in a press release.1

Yet mask use amongst patrons in this cozy pub appeared nonexistent — at least from the safe vantage point of the other side of the glass on sidewalk.   The distance from the stage to the closest patrons could scarcely have been six feet in this tiny historic storefront, as the singer belted out the lyrics toward the crowd.

While older residents of this patrician city show good mask and social distancing etiquette, behavior of tourists and students at the city’s many colleges are quite another matter.  Outside the private Trio night club on Marion Square, a dozen college-aged patrons frolicked in close proximity as they waited in the line to get in.  Around the corner near Charleston College, two women sang  a passable rendition of Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  

It was unclear if the Bangkok Lounge karaoke bar hosting the singers was in technical compliance with the governor’s new guidelines -- but lingering in an enclosed space as a progression of unmasked strangers project their full voices at you is probably not the best choice in the middle of a respiratory pandemic.

Cases of questionable behavior on a Saturday night in a college town are certainly not unusual — pandemic or not.  Official statistics about coronavirus transmission are higher in South Carolina than neighboring Georgia and certainly higher than in the Northeast, but still better than the upper Midwest.

That suggests the effects of this bad behavior is not in excess of the effect of what is going on in most of the United States.  It may mot be bar hopping that is driving most community spread, but other kinds of ill advised social encounters — visits to a friend’s house to watch the game, to a cousin’s wedding, or to join a fishing trip on a neighbor’s boat.

The reality is that many people are going on living their lives to the extent that they are allowed with little regard to the consequences. That might be surprising to a bunch of inside the beltway eggheads who always preferred social studies to recess, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Of course, the alternative to letting these people spread the disease with reckless abandon is mandatory restrictions backed by penalties serious enough to make people change their behavior.  But good luck convincing state governors like South Carolina’s McMaster.  His constituents are about as likely to have “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper stickers on their trucks as masks on their faces.  

The death toll will have to climb much, much higher before these Americans change their minds.  Let’s hope the day doesn’t come where that is actually what happens.

Related Web Columns:

Defiant Superspreaders, October 6, 2020

Youth Firewall, August 25, 2020

Open Defiance, August 11, 2020

Sunk by the Flunkies, June 30, 2020


1. The State, The State, McMaster Lifts SC’s Restaurant Capacity Limits, but Some Restrictions Remain, October 2, 2020