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Columbia Fire Marshals reviewing mask mandate enforcement following largely maskless crowd at Williams-Brice

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 9:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been nearly three weeks since the City of Columbia passed an ordinance requiring residents to mask up.

The ordinance requires that masks be worn in all public places in the city, including at bars, restaurants, and retail stores, and outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.

The measure includes large public spaces like Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Gamecocks hosted Kentucky to a packed, largely maskless, crowd on Saturday.

Columbia-Richland County Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins, whose Marshals are in charge of enforcement, said he was not pleased with the lack of masking at the game.

Following the scene at Williams-Brice over the weekend, the department said they’re reviewing the situation and planning for ways to improve enforcement efforts going forward. The University of South Carolina has another home game on Saturday, October 3.

Jenkins has acknowledged that getting 60,000-plus fans to mask up is a tall order.

“I know it’s going to be literally impossible for us to enforce it inside that stadium with you know, 50, 60, 70 thousand people. It’s just going to be impossible for us to do that.”

Jenkins previously said the department was in an “education phase” or enforcing the ordinance, simply alerting residents and customers of the updated guidance.

To this point, Fire Marshals have not issued any tickets to violators of the ordinance.

Marla Brestle, the parent of a UofSC student, is vaccinated and chose to go to the game unmasked. She says masking is a personal choice.

“I haven’t seen any enforcement so far,” she said. “I have not worn a mask myself, but if anybody in a store had said, ‘Hey, you need to put a mask on and I did not have one, I would just politely leave. And if we needed to wear a mask, I would probably go get one.”

If the city were to issue citations, they come with a $100 fine for both individuals and businesses.

Heather Burns, the owner of Revente and Sid & Nancy in Five Points, says small businesses are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances and shifting guidance.

“We’re all trying to follow the rules and the guidelines that are set out by the state and local governments and the CDC, keep our businesses open and our employees and customers safe,” she said. “So when somebody wants to argue about wearing a mask, it’s really just adding more stress to a stressful situation.”

The ordinance is in place until October 8.

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