Columbia officials pleasantly surprised after first weekend with mask ordinance, but businesses struggle to bring in customers

Columbia officials pleasantly surprised after first weekend with mask ordinance

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - If you were out and about at restaurants and shops this weekend in Columbia, you probably saw most people wearing masks.

Columbia’s mandatory mask ordinance, requiring customers and workers in commercial businesses to wear masks, went into effect on Friday morning.

While city officials like Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said they are happy and encouraged by the new ordinance, and the way people are following the rule to wear a mask, some Columbia businesses said they are worried about the impact it could have on their business and the number of customers walking through the door.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the city hasn’t written any citations yet. She said that right now it’s an educational process, giving people warnings if they aren’t wearing a mask.

“That shows me because of the overwhelming support for the mask ordinance, that people know that the only tools in our toolboxes as a community are mask-wearing and physical distancing, so this community cares. Even if sometimes its an inconvenience, people are overwhelming wearing the masks,” Wilson said.

Wilson did clarify some things about the ordinance today, that one business owner told me he’s been hearing questions about. She said if you are walking or running along the street and you are six feet from other people, you don’t have to wear a mask. Additionally, if you are eating or drinking at a restaurant, you don’t have to wear a mask. However, Wilson said all employees and customers at commercial establishments should be wearing masks other than that.

“I think the only tools in our toolbox as a community and nation, and this isn’t just the city saying this, these are our health professional across the country, our state epidemiologists, saying these are only tools we have right now: to wear masks and to physically distance,” Wilson said.

She said they’ve been working with businesses to make sure that they know the rules and have enough supply of masks to make sure all of their employees are wearing one, but not all businesses have been happy with the new ordinance.

“The sad thing is that as soon as the city started talking about doing a mask ordinance, we actually started to see our sales decline,” owner of The Grand on Main Scott Middleton said.

Middleton said the number of customers dropped 50 percent this weekend compared to last weekend.

“There are still people that don’t have the mask, they don’t understand the ordinance, and when we start handing out fines we will dry up, our businesses will completely dry up,” Middleton said.

Middleton said he believes customers are leaving Columbia to shop and eat out.

“The problem in that is when a city decides to put together a mask ordinance, the rest of the other municipalities didn’t do it, so what happened is the city of Columbia residents went to Lexington, they went to Forest Acres,” Middleton said.

However, Wilson said she believes that could change.

“Just because a neighboring government hasn’t enacted an ordinance yet, doesn’t mean they’re not going to or there not thinking about it,” Wilson said.

The City of Columbia is also providing free masks to residents at several sites throughout the city. Citizens can receive up to two masks per person or five masks per family. The distribution of free masks began today and will go until Friday, July 19th.

You can find a full list of the sites and times here.

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