Questions remain on enforcement of Columbia mask ordinance

Updated: Jun. 24, 2020 at 8:16 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Friday, June 26, Columbia is working with new rules to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business leaders are looking for more details on how those rules will be enforced.

Tuesday the Columbia City Council approved an ordinance that requires masks in commercial businesses for customers and employees.

PREVIOUS STORY Ι Columbia City Council passes ordinance requiring citizens to wear face masks, face coverings in commercial facilities

The ordinance takes effect at 6 a.m. on June 26 and reads in part:

BE IT ORDAINED by the Mayor and City Council of the City of Columbia, South Carolina this 23rd day of June, 2020 that facial coverings or masks shall be required in public places within the City to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19 as follows:

1. All persons entering a commercial establishment in the City must wear a face covering while inside the establishment. This paragraph does not apply to religious establishments. However, the use of face coverings is recommended during religious activities as well.

2. All restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores, and pharmacies in the City must require their employees to wear a face covering at all times while having face to face interaction with the public.

3. Any person who is unable to safely wear a face covering due to age, an underlying health condition, or is unable to remove the face covering without the assistance of others is exempt from this Ordinance.

4. Face coverings are not required in the following circumstances:

  • In personal vehicles;
  • When a person is alone in enclosed spaces; during outdoor physical activity, provided the active person maintains a minimum of six (6) feet from other people at all times;
  • When a person is alone or only with other household members;
  • While drinking, eating or smoking;
  • When wearing a face covering causes or aggravates a health condition.
  • When wearing a face covering would prevent the receipt of personal services.
  • When a person is 10 years of age or younger.

5. A person who fails to comply with Paragraph 1 of this Ordinance shall be guilty of a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of not more than $25.00. 6. A person who fails to comply with Paragraph 2 of this Ordinance shall be guilty of a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of not more than $100.00

President and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Carl Blackstone said he supports mask wearing for safety, but questioned if and how the ordinance could be enforced.

"The way it's written is any commercial building, does that mean you have to wear masks in your office by yourself when you're practicing social distancing? If your office door is closed, do you still have to wear a mask? None of that is out there," he said.

He said his office had "limited" communication with the city before the passing of the ordinance, and is looking for more clarification.

At-Large City Council member Howard Duvall said the city will be releasing more information on the wearing masks in the near future.

He said he envisions a "soft enforcement" where businesses are encouraged, and not often fined.

"Well it would have to be an extreme case. Somebody that is belligerent or somebody that is not going to do the right thing, may get a ticket. I would not think that the ticket for not wearing a mask would be the initial thing, I think there would be some underlying cause, and then as an additional charge there would be a $25 fine for not wearing a mask," he said.

He said businesses will have to take responsibility of their facilities, for the health of the community.

The ordinance is only applicable for businesses within Columbia city limits, and will not impact Fort Jackson or the rest of Richland County.

We reached out to CPD to ask about enforcement and were told because it is a civil infraction and not a criminal offense, it will not be cited by CPD.  We have contacted the city and are waiting for them to release a list of FAQs about what the ordinance will require and how it will be enforced.

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