Columbia Fire Marshals have yet to issue citations in first week of mask mandate

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 10:18 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been nearly a week since the city of Columbia’s mask mandate went back into effect, and the updated guidance is causing confusion at some local businesses.

The ordinance that the Columbia City Council voted unanimously to pass requires that masks be worn in all public places, including at bars, restaurants, retail stores, and outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.

Many local businesses are seeing lax mask enforcement, and some do not have signage reminding patrons to wear face coverings.

Columbia-Richland County Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins is working with Fire Marshals on enforcement of the ordinance.

To this point, Fire Marshals are focused more on educating customers and patrons about the mask mandate than issuing citations for violations.

No citations have been issued yet, but Jenkins said that will change.

“Now I’m not naive to believe that we’re not going to end up writing citations, but that’s the last thing we want to do is write a citation,” he said. “We’re hopeful that everyone will just conform to the ordinance.”

He said many business owners and customers are unaware that the ordinance went back into effect last week. The Fire Marshals are visiting local neighborhoods like Five Points and The Vista that typically attract large crowds, and providing resources on the ordinance.

Jenkins said he personally has visited big box stores like Walmart and Sam’s Club in recent days, greeting customers and making sure they’re aware of the shifted guidance.

At Sub Station II in Five Points, a sign reminding patrons to wear face coverings is on display in the window. That sign, though, is from November of last year.

Columbia Deputy Fire Marshal Joshua Ballard visited these locations and others today and provided business management with updated signage.

Sandi Corbett, president of the company, said she supports the mandate. She’s been requiring masks for employees throughout the pandemic but sees a mixture of masked and unmasked customers.

“We find it’s important to wear the masks because we are in close proximity to help stop the spread,” she said. “And obviously we would really love it if more of the customers would feel the importance of that as well, and not feel that it’s taking away something from their personal liberties.”

Corbett said she will work to ensure that her customers are in compliance with the mandate.

“We will put this couple of signs up in the windows so that customers can be aware of that, and we actually had a sign asking customers to wear masks previously that we will put back up in the windows as well,” she said.

At-Large Councilman Howard Duvall said the business community in Columbia should embrace the new ordinance.

“To me, it’s a good sell for the business community to say we’re cooperating with doing anything we can to get this virus under control,” he said.

Jenkins hopes that if patrons comply with the mandate for a month, there will be noticeable less virus spread in the community.

“I think it’s very important for all of us to work hand in hand together because the one thing we want do is we want to eliminate this virus,” he said.

When Fire Marshals do issue a citation, it comes with a $100 fine. This is the same for individuals and businesses.

When the city was last enforcing its mask mandate, Jenkins said they issued around 600 citations. He hopes they won’t have to issue that many this time.

The mask ordinance also includes Columbia public and private schools. After the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the city’s previous mask ordinance violated state law, Mayor Steve Benjamin said this one was written with that ruling in mind. This is why Columbia Fire Marshals are doing the enforcement, and not teachers or administrators.

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