Sumter City Council passes public mask requirement


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People in the City of Sumter will be required to wear face coverings in certain circumstances after Sumter City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday morning.

The council held a virtual special meeting at 11 a.m. to make the decision, which was passed with a 5-2 vote with Councilman David Merchant and Councilman Collin Davis voting against the ordinance. Though Davis and Merchant voted against the ordinance, they agreed that wearing a mask is a personal responsibility in protecting yourself and others.

Councilman Calvin Hastie said a member of his family passed away last weekend from COVID-19, and the public needs to take the coronavirus seriously.

Councilman Steve Corley said practicing social distancing and wearing a mask in public are at the top of public health officials’ lists for staying safe, and he hopes this requirement will help reduce the spread of COVID-19. He noted the state’s record high for new cases was announced Tuesday at more than 1,700.

Councilwoman Ione Dwyer said she thinks wearing a mask is the best way of protecting yourself, family members and friends.

Councilman Thomas Lowery offered no comment but voted in favor.

Mayor Joe McElveen said this is a real public health issue, and he thinks that passing this ordinance will make a difference, as other cities in the state have done so.

The ordinance goes into effect on Friday and will be revisited at the most in 30 days, though a meeting can be called at any time to revisit it and adjust or cancel it.

The council first held a special emergency meeting to discuss the matter last Friday, but all but Councilman Calvin Hastie voted to defer the decision for five days because they said they felt they did not have enough time to consider how requiring face masks could affect community members.

What are the details of the ordinance?

Sumter’s 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 an infected person — who can be contagious without showing symptoms — from spreading COVID-19. It 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.

Mayor Joe McElveen said Sumter’s ordinance is limited.

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 a family or the same household.

The ordinance states there is a $50 civil penalty for those who fail to comply.

What about wearing a mask while legally carrying a firearm?

According to SLED, there is no state Concealed Weapons Permit law that prohibits a state CWP holder from wearing a mask to comply with a city or a county health ordinance.

How does Sumter’s ordinance compare to others in South Carolina?

The meeting Friday followed a stream of South Carolina cities that have approved mask requirements last week and this week.

Gov. Henry McMaster has been against the requirement at the state level, saying local governments should take it upon themselves to decide on whether to issue such mandates. State Attorney General Alan Wilson issued an opinion last week saying cities have the authority to do so and that wearing a mask to comply with a city health ordinance does not violate any state law.

Camden has an ordinance requiring people to wear masks if they are in any building or waiting to enter a building, interacting with people outdoors, in commercial businesses, public transportation or walking outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

The city also made an exception for children under the age of 8, those receiving medical services involving the mouth or nose and those who have medical or mental health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask. Camden’s ordinance also goes into effect on July 3, and those who don’t comply with the ordinance can be fined $25.

Columbia has an ordinance requiring those who enter a commercial establishment to wear a mask, as well as employees of restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores and pharmacies.

Columbia made an exception for children under the age of 10, religious institutions, those with aggravated health conditions and while eating, drinking or smoking. This ordinance is currently in effect, and there is a civil fine of $25 for customers and a $100 fine for businesses who fail to comply.

Hilton Head passed an ordinance requiring the public to wear a mask when inside commercial businesses, food and retail establishments, salons, lobbies, bars, pharmacies and other public spaces. Employees of any business are also required to wear a mask when around the public.

The city made an exception for those who are unable to safely wear a mask due to age, those with underlying health conditions, while eating or drinking or anyone receiving medical care. The ordinance is currently in effect, and according to Section 1-5-10 of the Municipal Code of the Town of Hilton Head, those who fail to comply can be fined up to $500 and imprisoned up to 30 days and could be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Charleston, Greenville, Clemson, Spartanburg, Walterboro, Orangeburg, Mount Pleasant, Kiawah Island, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach, Hanahan, Edisto Beach, Beaufort, North Myrtle Beach, Rockhill and Newberry have also passed or are considering passing a mask requirement ordinance.