Over Memorial Day weekend, I went to Garden City, S.C., south of Myrtle Beach, to pick up my wife, who had been spending the week there with a good friend. It was a beautiful weekend, with warm temperatures and virtually no showers.
Garden City is a really nice area, with a wide beach and gentle surf. It is a very different atmosphere than “dirty Myrtle,” which is what my daughters call Myrtle Beach. It has been decades since Myrtle was a safe family vacation destination, but I’m told that it is now even wilder and seedier.
Memorial Day weekend was when many states, including South Carolina, rushed to open up from a two-month COVID-19 pandemic shut-down. The idea was a gentle opening up of restaurants and shops, with social distancing being practiced and masks being worn. In other words, a sane, very slow attempt at allowing people to come back into public places.
On the beach itself, we were able to deliberately stay away from people and enjoy the afternoon. There was plenty of room. But we noticed that people generally weren’t practicing social distancing at all.
We walked onto the pier a couple hundred yards away and saw folks standing elbow to elbow fishing. Getting out onto the pier, we had to walk through a small, outside bar/restaurant scene. The place was packed and no one was wearing a mask.
Later that evening, we decided to walk down a public boardwalk that is popular in Garden City. We stayed just a short while because people were packed in there elbow-to-elbow, drinking and eating.
It was clear, as was the case across the nation, that people were casting off the shackles of stay-at-home orders and celebrating the traditional opening weekend of summer in robust fashion. It was also clear that this was an unhealthy situation, one exactly as cautioned against by every public health expert in the world.
What was the result of all these festivities? Within two weeks, Horry County, which encompasses Myrtle, Garden City and the other beaches on the Grand Strand, had a massive spike in COVID-19 infections. Hospitals in South Carolina began filling up with really sick people.
As a result of people not being responsible, North Carolina also saw a major increase in infection. For other southern states, such as Texas, Florida and Alabama, this situation has now become critical, much the same as it did earlier in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Because they took it seriously and maintained severe restrictions on public life, New York and New Jersey have seen the infection rate come back down, much as has been the case in Europe except for Sweden. The Swedes didn’t take COVID-19 seriously and are now paying a high price.
I completely understand the fact that people were stir crazy, having been unable to do anything much at all for a couple of months. Maybe it was inevitable that people would blow off steam, get out of the house and have to learn this virus lesson all over again.
However, the bottom line is that public recklessness has set us back in terms of infection rates.
People, generally speaking, seem to have seen the light at least for now. I see fewer and fewer people going around without masks, and social distancing is being commonly practiced.
The next challenge will be safely opening schools.
Everyone agrees that it’s a setback for children, both educationally and socially, when they aren’t in school. Virtual learning is just fine in theory, but it certainly can’t replace the in-person variety.
My daughter, Sydney, teaches in New Orleans, which has suffered intensely from COVID-19. Schools there, as in North Carolina, will be operating at 50% of capacity, with students coming every other day and supplementing with online learning. It’s not ideal, but does allow for better safety measures.
The deal is very simple: Wear a mask in public and maintain social distancing. Get tested if you may have been exposed.
Eventually, a vaccine will be available, along with effective medications. Until then, be patient and stay safe.