Columbia, West Columbia vote to institute mask mandates

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 11:36 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2021 at 7:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Following neighbor Cayce, Columbia, and West Columbia’s city councils are calling emergency meetings on Wednesday to implement mask ordinances.

West Columbia’s held an emergency meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, with both a mask mandate and an ordinance to suspend normal meeting procedures on the agenda.

West Columbia City Council voted 8-1 in favor of the 30-day mask mandate ordinance for commercial businesses.

The council also gave themselves the authority to go virtual over the next 60 days.

The City of Columbia also unanimously voted to implement a mask mandate. It is expected to go into effect immediately.

The ordinance is set for 30 days.

It requires masks to be worn in all public places in Columbia, and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible.

It requires “all restaurants, bars, retail stores, barbershops, salons, grocery stores, and pharmacies in the City must require their employees to wear a face covering which covers the nose and mouth at all times while having face to face interaction with the public.”

There are exemptions, including while eating, for health concerns and those five or younger.

The fines are set at up to $100.

The ordinance also requires all public and private students (over the age of 5) and faculty to wear masks, as enforced by the Columbia Fire Marshals. Teachers are specifically not required to enforce the mask mandate, following the State Supreme Court’s ruling on a prior Columbia ordinance.

There are health exemptions.

RELATED STORY | SC Supreme Court says Columbia mask mandate violates the law

It prohibits Richland School District One from creating or enforcing a mask ordinance, or using 2021-2022 budget funds for the ordinance.

The city will provide masks for schools to comply with the ordinance.

Columbia’s ordinance would last for 31 days.

The mask mandate discussion comes after the State Supreme Court’s ruling on the city’s original mask mandate, which held districts responsible for enforcement.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the ordinance was crafted with the ruling in mind.

“It’s meant to be comprehensive, it’s very difficult to control the spread of the virus without including schools. This language easily comports with the language articulated and the concerns addressed by the justices in last weeks’ ruling,” he said.

Benjamin said the Columbia Fire Marshals do not receive any funding from the current state buget, money that is prohibited to be spent on enforcing the mandate by a rule within the budget.

Benjamin, At-large Councilman Howard Duvall, and At-Large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac-Devine said the goal is to establish a coalition between Columbia, West Columbia, Cayce, Richland County and Forest Acres’ respective local governments to create uniform mask ordinances.

Columbia’s mask ordinance would carry an $100 fine for violations, while Cayce’s ordinance only creates $25 fines for non-employee violators.

RELATED STORY | City of Cayce approves emergency face-covering ordinance

“The $100 got a little bit more attention than the $25 fine, so my recommendation would be our penalty would be an $100 fine,” Duvall said.

Benjamin pointed to COVID-19 data as a driver of the mask ordinance.

DHEC data as of Sept. 6 tallies 5,375 students who have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide this school year.

The South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative reports 30 children are hospitalized as of September 8, with nine on ventilators.

From March 4, 2020 to Sept. 6, 2021, DHEC has tallied 568 children under the age of 20 who have been hospitalized.

There have been 18 deaths of children under 20 in that time.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office (who previously sued the city over its prior ordinance) said if the measure passes, the office will review the ordinance.

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