The Associated Press is treating this like a scandal, but why? It is the job of our government officials to accept advice from multiple interests, weigh the information, measure the priorities, and move forward with public policy that attempts to find a balance that promotes the common good. The notion that we should turn public policy over to a single voice – like public health officials – is ridiculous. It is equally ridiculous to turn public policy over to the exclusive wishes of businesses, public employees, environmentalists, or any other single group. The entire reason we have representative government is for all voices to be represented and then for elected representatives to issue public policy that takes those voices into account.
As South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster prepared to announce the end of a coronavirus stay-at-home order, his top staff received an email from the state health department.
The message, highlighted in bold, was clear: Wait longer before allowing customers back inside restaurants, hair salons and other businesses where people will be in close contact.
Instead, McMaster pressed ahead with a plan written by the state restaurant association to resume inside dining on May 11. The guidelines made masks optional for employees and allowed more customers inside than the health agency had advised.
A few days later, the Republican governor opened the doors to salons, fitness centers and swimming pools. He did not wait to gauge the effect of the restaurant reopening on the virus, as public health officials had suggested. Like many states, South Carolina later experienced a surge in infections that forced McMaster to dial back his reopening plan.
He was hardly alone. Thousands of pages of emails provided to The Associated Press under open-records laws show that governors across the U.S. were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries — from campgrounds in New Hampshire to car washes in Washington. Some governors put economic interests ahead of public health guidance, and certain businesses were allowed to write the rules that would govern their own operations.
As job losses accelerated, the pressure to reopen intensified.