Charleston City Council approved a face mask ordinance Thursday, going into effect on July 1.
The mandate requires citizens to wear a face mask in some retail spaces and restaurants to reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19. The language in the ordinance not only requires the general public to wear masks when they enter restaurants and retail businesses, but mandates many employees of those businesses to wear masks during all face-to-face interaction with the public.
“If this virus continues to grow like it’s growing right now … there will be another day in consideration for business closures and we don’t want that to happen,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said during an emergency council meeting Thursday. “This is the one thing we can do under our control to try to make a difference and keep the numbers down and help businesses be successful again.”
Several council members agreed that the ordinance could help keep businesses open during the pandemic. “This is something that’s been asked for by our community in every corner and the whole objective is to get us back to a place where we can be successful sooner rather than later,” Councilmember Mike Seekings said. “It’s the [King Street corridor] that is asking us to do this so they can get back to business.”
Tecklenburg said the city will work with businesses to make masks available as inexpensive as possible.
“We don’t legislate in absolutes and I think this measure today is a reasonable way to go about achieving a very serious public policy goal,” Councilman Ross Appel said.
Councilman Harry Griffin was the sole vote against the measure. “I’m not going to ask our citizens to have any more enforcement or oversight until we give transparent answers about what happened to our city on King Street on May 30,” he said. Protests against police violence hit downtown on May 30, followed by theft and vandalism that night.
Citizens that violate the ordinance can be fined $50 after a warning. The ordinance will be enforced by code enforcement officers in the livability department, not the Charleston Police Department, Tecklenburg said.
Charleston County passed a resolution Thursday encouraging citizens to follow S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those guidelines include social distancing, wearing a cloth mask and practicing basic hygiene. The county is not requiring citizens to follow the recommendations.
North Charleston is not enacting ordinance for now, according to a June 24 update from Mayor Keith Summey. “We do not want to regulate you having to wear a mask,” he said. “It is common sense to wear a mask and we’re asking you to follow your common sense approach to life.”
James Island will consider a similar ordinance to Charleston’s, Councilwoman Carol Jackson said at Thursday’s meeting.
On Tuesday, Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie said he asked the town’s emergency coordinator to compile a data analysis of COVID-19 cases in hopes council would consider a face mask regulation.
Columbia and Greenville passed citywide face mask ordinances earlier this week. The capital city now requires face masks in public, and residents of Greenville have to wear face coverings in pharmacies and grocery stores.
City council also approved an extension of their current emergency ordinance, and will continue to temporarily suspend their plastic bag ban.
There were another 1,106 COVID-19 cases recorded in South Carolina today. In Charleston County, 2,628 people have tested positive for the illness.