Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Agenda: DHEC chief resigns; SC sees single-day record as national death toll tops 100,000; North Chs. PD discipline officers for excessive force

More than 540,500 unemployed in S.C.

Posted by Lauren Hurlock on Thu, May 28, 2020 at 10:27 AM

PHOTO BY MIKA BAUMEISTER ON UNSPLASH
  • Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash
DHEC head steps down as coronavirus deaths spike. The head of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Rick Toomey, has stepped down citing a recent health scare and a desire to be with his family in Beaufort. On Wednesday, DHEC reported 20 deaths due to the coronavirus, setting a new daily high. Source: P&C

Death toll passes 100,000. Nationally, the death toll from the coronavirus has passed 100,000, which is likely an undercount. Still, America's coronavirus death toll is the highest in the world — the coronavirus has killed more Americans than the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. Source: AP

Unemployment grows. The state Department of Employment and Workforce had another week of fewer claims — 24,950, down almost 4,500 from the week before. In the past 10 weeks, 540,545 people have filed for unemployment. Source: Live 5

North Charleston Police disciplines three. Three North Charleston police officers are facing disciplinary action after a video surfaced of them using excessive force. The department investigated and found they acted "inconsistently" with department policy. Source: Live 5

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Before You Go: Bertha brings big rain; Burger King’s social distancing crowns; The science behind not returning your shopping cart

Distancing, but make it fashion

Posted by Parker Milner on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 5:36 PM

UNSPLASH PHOTO BY JEFFREY GROSPE
  • Unsplash photo by Jeffrey Grospe
COVID-19 updates: The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 207 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday bringing the statewide total to 10,623. The state's death toll is 466, with 20 additional deaths announced Wednesday.

Big Bertha: Tropical Storm Bertha brought heavy rain to Charleston Wednesday morning. The second named tropical storm of the year made landfall 20 miles east of Charleston with sustained winds that reached 50 mph. This is the first time since 2016 that there have been two named storms before the official June 1 start of hurricane season.

WHAT WE'RE READING:

Axios: “Amazon's local podcast play.”

Eater: "By the Numbers: Here’s What Reopening America’s Restaurants Is Going to Look Like"

The Atlantic: “Summer is here, and more states are starting to reopen, forcing people to figure out their own methods of risk assessment in their daily lives.”

Scientific American: “Why don't people return their shopping carts?”

New York Post: “Burger King debuts giant crowns to encourage social distancing.”

The rest from Charleston City Paper:

- The insanity of keeping frosé flowing in a pandemic
- Some South Carolina leaders are taking another look at medical stockpiles
- The Charleston Museum has reopened with two new exhibits
- Absentee witness requirement thrown out for June primary, there's still time to request your mail-in ballot
- Herd Provisions gets a pandemic boost as a farmer and a retailer

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Cyclist dead after being hit while crossing North Bridge in early-morning incident

No criminal charges have been filed at this time

Posted by Heath Ellison on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 5:16 PM

Cosgrove Bridge connects West Ashley and North Charleston - GOOGLE STREET VIEW
  • Google Street View
  • Cosgrove Bridge connects West Ashley and North Charleston
Charleston police are investigating a fatal collision involving a cyclist and automobile on the Cosgrove Memorial Bridge early Wednesday morning. At approximately 5 a.m., a minivan in the northbound lane struck a bicyclist, who was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries, according to police.

The bridge that connects North Charleston and West Ashley has three lanes of traffic in each direction, but no pedestrian walkway. Cyclists and walkers are often seen walking along the small median dividing the six lanes of traffic.

The victim's identity has not yet been released. No criminal charges have been filed at the time.

Wednesday's death is the fourth traffic fatality to be investigated by CPD in 2020. "This is a tragic reminder for drivers and pedestrians to share the responsibility of being alert and aware of your surroundings, and for all pedestrians and bicyclists to utilize safe and legal practice when traveling the roadways," a spokesperson said in a press release.

Charleston's high rate of pedestrian fatalities has been noted in the past several years. A 2018 report from the S.C. Department of Public Safety counted a total of 26 pedestrian deaths between 2011-2016.

In November, the federal DOT granted $18 million to build a pedestrian bridge between West Ashley and downtown, a critical connection that will eventually provide the first safe passage across the Ashley River.

But incidents like Wednesday's show that there is still work to be done, advocates say.

"Everyone deserves safe access over the North Bridge, no matter the transportation mode," Charleston Moves director Katie Zimmerman told the City Paper on Wednesday. "Fatalities and injuries to people walking or biking over the North Bridge are entirely preventable by providing safe and connected spaces."

Charleston Moves is working with a coalition of groups and Charleston County for an updated study on the North Bridge. The expect that request to go in front of County Council in July.

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No kitten, Pounce Cat Cafe can't keep up with demand

But that's not necessarily a good thing

Posted by Lauren Hurlock on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 4:22 PM

PROVIDED
  • Provided
Usually when you stroll down Meeting Street and pass Pounce Cat Cafe, there are fuzzy faces staring back at you. But the pandemic has even affected the cat cafe — Pounce Cat Cafe is almost out of cats.

"We really have no idea [what happened]! Everyone was looking for a quarantine pal?" said Ashley Brooks, Pounce's co-owner. "Even while we were closed, we got tons of emails and inquiries about adopting cats from us. Since we reopened, the demand has been just as high which is great, but it's a catch-22 because now we don't have enough cats to run our business."

Normally the cafe acts as a foster home for around 17 adoptable cats from the Charleston Animal Society. Although there are cats that need homes — they can't be sent to Pounce. Before they can make it to the cafe, all cats must be "fixed, vaccinated, microchipped, and medically and behaviorally fit for a group housing environment like the cafe," said Brooks.

The downside of the cafe running out of cats is not only there aren't cats being adopted, it puts unique businesses in jeopardy.

"We cannot house kittens at the cafe, and there are very few healthy adult cats that would also be good candidates for an environment like Pounce. We cannot risk getting our other cats sick if cats aren't properly vetted, and we also do not want to bring any cats to the cafe that might be anxious or stressed around other cats or people," said Brooks. "There are definitely cats out there, but the eligible pool is very small when you also think about how many people are also so eager to adopt."

In the meantime, Pounce is keeping their bar open and are not currently charging an entry fee. "People can kind of just float in and out, read, do work, and pet the literal two cats we do have if they want," said Brooks. "If you want to stop in, just shoot us a message first and we'll give you an update on our cat situation before you come in."

You can support the cafe by purchasing merchandise, gift certificates or by booking future visits on their website.

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Absentee witness requirement thrown out for June primary, there's still time to request your mail-in ballot

Witness requirement unsafe during COVID-19, suit claimed

Posted by Sam Spence on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 10:12 AM

Witness signature requirements will not be enforced for June's primary - LAUREN HURLOCK
  • Lauren Hurlock
  • Witness signature requirements will not be enforced for June's primary
A federal judge's order Monday made it easier for South Carolina residents to cast their votes in the June primary, throwing out the requirement that a witness sign mail-in absentee ballots.

The order waiving the absentee ballot signature requirement is the latest measure that loosens South Carolina's laundry list of election safeguards that have become problematic as residents follow guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several S.C. voters, candidates and interest groups argued that the arcane rules make it more difficult for voters to participate in June primaries without exposing themselves to the dangerous and hard-to-treat virus.

Earlier this month, state lawmakers fast-tracked a temporary rule that provides a one-time "State of Emergency" addition to the normal list of state-approved excuses that permit someone to cast their ballot through the mail or at a local election office. The exception sunsets in July. Voters in South Carolina have until Friday, June 5 to request their absentee ballot for the June election, which includes county, state, and federal primary contests. (Visit SCVotes.org for info.) Ballots must be returned to the county election office by 7 p.m. on election day, June 9.

Thousands of absentee ballots have already been requested and returned, but state elections officials say that all ballots will be counted regardless of whether a signature is present if the ballot is otherwise valid.
Attorneys leading the case, including state and national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) groups, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and national Democratic Party organizations, asked for several additional exceptions, but District Judge Michelle Childs agreed only to a temporary injunction blocking the enforcement of the witness requirement.

"The elimination of the witness requirement protects not only those who are most vulnerable to the pandemic, it also ensures that no one will have to risk exposure to COVID-19 in order to exercise their fundamental right to vote in the primary elections," said Susan Dunn of the ACLU of South Carolina in a press release.

In filings by the parties bringing the suit, one expert contended that the overall risk to public health is compounded for minority groups at higher risk for COVID-19.

"[Minorities'] risk [of] COVID-19 infection is tied to pre-existing and evolving inequities in structural systems and social conditions," read Dr. Courtney Cogburn's declaration, quoted in Monday's ruling. "As a result, any voting requirement requiring them to break social distancing protocols would place them at higher risk for infection and also threatens public health of the Black community more broadly."

So far in South Carolina, black patients make up 52 percent of COVID-19 deaths, but only 27 percent of the overall population, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Claims that witnesses prevented election fraud were "undermined," Childs wrote, by state election leaders themselves. In a March letter to Gov. Henry McMaster referenced in the order, S.C. Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino admitted officials had no way to verify the signatures.

State Democratic Party and ACLU officials previously said they will also ask for coronavirus-related exceptions for the November general election.

"We are fighting for this change for the November general election as well, in addition to the removal of the unnecessary witness requirement that continues to force South Carolinians to risk their health in order to vote," said ACLU Voting Rights Project attorney Adriel Cepeda Derieux earlier this month.

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