Freedom: Our safe harbor in times of crisis

March 27, 2020

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

Note to parents: this edition of the weekly report from Palmetto Promise has more hyperlinks than usual. It is our hope that this hearty post will not only serve as a policy update but provide a ready lesson for young minds who are being educated at home during the COVID-19 social distancing effort.

I don’t know about you, but at Palmetto Promise, our email and feeds are filled with offers for products that marketers attempt to tie to novel coronavirus COVID-19. Policy people can fall prey to this temptation as well. “COVID-19 of course proves what I have been saying all along about energy policy!”

That said, the advent of the coronavirus crisis has flung wide the doors to innovation in numerous policy areas—healthcare, education, transportation, and regulation just to name a few.

Before mentioning just two of those policy areas, let me say this. As we look at policy, our overarching principle that underlies it is that freedom is always a safe harbor. We can embrace freedom in any crisis.

In the last few days and weeks, we have seen the opportunities freedom presents. Have you noticed how often you have seen governors and mayors in the media? Just when we thought federalism was dead, that all power was in Washington and that states were mere districts for DC administrative purposes, we see Governors stepping up and taking charge. The President has even directed a number of news conference questions to governors, for those questions are state questions.

On HEALTH—As news of the spread of COVID-19 made headlines all over the state, Palmetto Promise noticed a dangerous level of confusion in two critical areas of pandemic preparedness and care: telemedicine and Certificate of Need (CON) hospital bed limitations. Other states were acting, but what about South Carolina?

Could physicians licensed in other states have the freedom to see patients by phone and through video portals in the Palmetto State? Could hospitals bound by arcane CON bed limits have the freedom to exceed that limit if they were overrun with COVID-19 patients?

There were no ready answers, and certainly no written directives. Confusion abounded.

We raised the issue…and Governor McMaster acted, issuing as part of a COVID executive order that directed that Department of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC) could indeed waive CON restrictions on beds. The same day, his Department of Health & Human Services issued guidance leaving no doubt about the freedom of South Carolinians to access medical care through the use of telemedicine.

Chalk up two victories.

Additionally, we caught up with Direct Primary Care (DPC) doctors on how they are handling the COVID-19 crisis. DPC practices are able to pair their innovation through telehealth with the ‘old-school’ medicine of a true family doctor who you have a personal relationship with and have access to 24/7. This freedom that DPC physicians have has allowed them to care for their patients well during the epidemic.  You can read our story on the DPC physicians tackling COVID-19 here.

On EDUCATION—South Carolina has used current resources to meet needs in communities off the Greenville-Columbia-Charleston grid. One example is the use of school buses to provide needed wi-fi connections and to deliver food to children who often depend on the school to provide breakfast and lunch five days every week.

Palmetto Promise also quickly sprang into action, compiling a still-growing list of resources for parents suddenly faced with the unexpected task of educating their students at home.

Now we are working to ensure that the remote learning that has been taking hold across South Carolina will lead to expanded online instructional options for students. Remote learning resources and tools once considered optional are now vital. School districts can learn from best practices from around the state and nation and implement remote learning plans and true Course Access more broadly.

We are hopeful that the temporary freedoms born and enjoyed during the coronavirus pandemic will continue after the outbreak has passed. You can rest assured that with your support, Palmetto Promise will be on the front lines working to see that those freedoms are not only maintained, but expanded.

To see the wide range of innovations born of freedom during the coronavirus crisis, visit our special page dedicated to COVID-19 here.