COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As coronavirus cases in South Carolina have reached record numbers in recent days, leaders in the state's capital city are mulling a requirement that people wear masks in public.
While not passing a formal ordinance, the Columbia City Council took up the notion during a meeting on Tuesday, saying that members would take public comment on the idea and perhaps vote during a later meeting.
The discussion came after several days of record-setting numbers of new coronavirus cases in South Carolina. On Tuesday, state health officials announced 595 new COVID-19 cases in the state, bringing the total number to nearly 20,000 since the outbreak began. In all, 607 deaths in the state have been attributed to the virus.
Earlier this month, state health officials issued a joint statement with several health associations calling on South Carolinians to adhere to mask and social distancing recommendations.
According to the Columbia proposal, anyone age 10 and older would be required to wear a face covering while inside or waiting to enter a public building, in public outdoor spaces where they are interacting with others, and while using public transportation or ride-sharing services.
The ordinance would also require masks “when engaging in business activities in private spaces.” Violations would be a misdemeanor, according to the draft proposal.
As states across the country lift or alter stay-at-home orders issued in the wake of the pandemic, policies related to public mask wearing vary, with some states requiring them in public spaces or specifically by service-industry workers.
Asked about the possibility of imposing such a requirement in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster — himself a former state and federal prosecutor — has often expressed concerns about infringing on civil liberties, instead stressing the importance of people taking responsibility for their actions.
“No ma'am,” McMaster said last week, in response to a reporter's question about possibly considering such a requirement. “There are some limits to what we can do and what we can enforce. ... At this point, the answer is individual responsibility. It's not mandates by the government."
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP