Executives at South Carolina’s largest newspaper asked staff to return to work in the office full-time despite concerns about the coronavirus. Now, there’s a COVID-19 case in the paper’s building.
Multiple sources told The Daily Beast that Post and Courier higher-ups have informed staff in recent days of one confirmed case in the paper’s Charleston office. Upon learning the news, employees were horrified.
“Disgusted, distraught, angry,” one staffer said, describing the mood.
After The Daily Beast reached out for comment, the newspaper’s bosses confirmed the coronavirus case to worried staffers in a regularly scheduled meeting. Some employees would be allowed to return to a work-from-home schedule, the paper’s leaders said. Post & Courier did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Post and Courier has been one of many South Carolina businesses to reopen in the last few weeks. But it has also eschewed the work-from-home ethos embraced by many media companies and newspapers, which has aggravated some staff who were concerned about potentially coming into contact with coronavirus in an office space.
Prior to the June 1 return to its offices, the paper’s employees made their concerns known to company brass and top editors. As The Daily Beast previously reported, a Post and Courier engagement editor was fired for allowing an article criticizing the paper’s decision to require employees to return to the office to appear on the newspaper’s community Facebook page.
“People are terrified,” one staffer said in May, adding: “They’re asking us to risk our health and maybe our lives and they won’t even tell us why. It just seems cruel.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast in late May, executive editor Mitch Pugh said the paper had followed “all federal, state and local regulations and guidance” in its reopening plans.
“Like many essential workplaces, including other news organizations, we have had personnel working in the building throughout this period,” Pugh said at the time. “We believe it is now reasonable for other employees to return to work. We will continue to monitor federal, state and local regulations and SC DHEC data moving forward to inform future decision-making and continue to take suggestions from our employees. Our company, which has not instituted COVID-related furloughs or layoffs, remains committed to serving our community as a designated essential workplace.”
Despite the state’s continued reopening, coronavirus appears to be on the rise in South Carolina. According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker, three of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas, including Charleston, are now among the biggest COVID-19 hot spots in the nation.
Still, it appears the company has been outwardly unfazed by the news.
On the single deadliest day of the pandemic in South Carolina, the Post and Courier announced to staff that it would require a return to the office the following Monday. The paper’s parent company, Evening Post Industries, which operates several South Carolina health and real-estate companies, announced last month that it would end its weekly newsletter with coronavirus updates, and that socially-distanced yoga and workout classes would resume.
As news of the in-office coronavirus case began to circulate among staff on Tuesday, the company sent around an email titled “wellness updates.”
While some employees in the know thought it could be an update on the pandemic, it was instead a reminder to participate in virtual yoga classes.