More wearing masks in City of Sumter, but some split still about mandate


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Community members and local businesses throughout the City of Sumter are feeling split about the city's mask ordinance after it went into effect on July 3.

Over the weekend, big-box businesses like TJ Maxx and Lowe's were allowing customers inside without requiring a mask, though more people are wearing them in public than before the ordinance was passed. Other local businesses placed signs on their doors stating there was a mask requirement, but there are some who aren't enforcing the ordinance.

"A lot of merchants who wanted a mask ordinance don't want to be telling their people to wear a mask," Mayor Joe McElveen said.

Sumter's mask ordinance requires customers and staff to wear face coverings in retail and food service establishments, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health and Environmental Control have recommended as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. This includes restaurants, drive-throughs and anywhere that sells food, as well as grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, laundromats and any business that sells goods or services.

Rather than requiring a mask, the ordinance mandates a face covering, which can be any piece of cloth, fabric or material that covers the nose and mouth and stays up without having to hold it up. The ordinance states a face covering can include, but is not limited to, bandanas, medical masks, cloth masks, scarves and gaiters.

They are not required in outdoor or unenclosed areas of retail stores or restaurants; for people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering; for those who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or behavioral condition; for children under 8 years old; for restaurant patrons while eating; in private, individual offices; when complying with directions of law enforcement officers; in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering, including while receiving dental services or while swimming; and while exclusively with members of your family or the same household.

The ordinance states there is a $50 civil penalty for those who fail to comply. It also states that employers who fail to require employees to wear a face covering can be fined up to $100.

However, the ordinance states that it is the employer's responsibility to enforce the provisions of the ordinance only against employees of the establishment, but they can't require customers, visitors or other members of the general public to wear face coverings.

McElveen said if retailers are uncomfortable with customers not wearing a mask, they can call law enforcement or City Hall, but they aren't required to report it.

"A merchant does not have the responsibility to make someone wear a mask," McElveen said. "They won't be prosecuted if they don't call and report it, but if they do call the police or someone from codes enforcement, they will probably come and look into it."

According to DHEC, Sumter County is at 87.3% occupancy in regards to hospital bed space, with 22 beds available and 151 being used as of Tuesday. Because Tuomey Hospital is part of Prisma Health, which has hospitals in the Midlands and Upstate, they can transfer patients as needed throughout its system, but bed availability statewide has been at record lows recently.

This has McElveen concerned for his citizens, and he said he hopes the community follows the city's ordinance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19."Our goal is not to punish anyone," McElveen said. "It's to help themselves."

C. Anthony's Menswear in downtown Sumter is asking people to wear masks inside.

"I'm all for it. If it's going to help bring that curve back, then that's where we need to be," owner Chip Bracalente said. "I think for the safety for us and for the safety of other people in here, I think everybody needs to have a mask on."

Louis Tisdale, of Mayesville, was at the store Tuesday said he's for the mask requirement and thinks it is the best thing the city could have enforced to save lives.

"I don't think it's a choice. Nobody likes wearing them, but people are going to die if you don't," Tisdale said. "The people I worry about, most of us are fairly healthy, but what if you take that home and somebody's not? I couldn't live with that."

There are others in the community who are not in favor of the ordinance.

An employee at Lorine Olive Oil Company on Bultman Drive said the store has a mask requirement, but they do not have a sign on the door.

"You can't enforce something like that with people with asthma or people with different things. I think it's ridiculous myself," the employee said. "When my customers come in, I'll put it on, but some of them ask if they can take them off because they don't want to wear them either. I say it's up to you."

There are others who are encouraging a face covering rather than enforcing it.

Cut Rate Drug Store Pharmacist John Holladay said most of their customers are coming in with masks on, but they won't refuse service to anyone who doesn't wear a face covering.

"We have a sign on the door, but I'm not law enforcement," Holladay said. "The city ordinance requires you to wear a mask, and after that, I kind of leave it up to them."