Beaufort County Council passes mandatory mask ordinance

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BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – The Beaufort County Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday requiring face masks in areas where people will not be able to social distance.

The measure, which passed in a vote of 8 to 2, will take effect Friday at 11:59 p.m. and expire August 31 or the end of the county’s state of emergency — whichever comes first.

“The whole idea was we want to slow the virus down as much as we possibly can. This is one way of doing that,” said Chairman Joe Passiment.

Anyone entering a commercial or public building must wear a face covering and maintain social distancing where possible inside.

Businesses or employees interacting with people outside, including during curbside pickup, delivery and service calls, must wear a mask. Employers have to provide face coverings for their staff and must post signs at entrances informing customers that masks are mandatory.

The ordinance also applies to anyone on commercial transportation, including tours.

There are exceptions for the following:

  • Child care facilities and schools
  • Churches or gymnasiums where social distancing policies are in place
  • Patrons actively consuming food and beverages inside a restaurant or bar
  • Persons receiving medical treatment
  • Persons actively swimming in an indoor swimming pool
  • Persons unable to safely wear a face covering due to age or underlying health condition
  • Persons unable to remove a face covering without another’s help
  • Anyone traveling in a personal vehicle
  • Anyone alone or in the presence of household members in an enclosed space

Children under the age of 2 are also exempt. For children older than 2, wearing a mask is at the discretion of a parent, guardian or custodian.

The council voted unanimously to remove a fine of $100 or 30 days in jail from the measure. However, establishments that repeatedly violate the ordinance may be subject to a lawsuit or civil penalty.

“If we need to write warning tickets to document, which is our body cameras are also documenting those violations, you can use that at a later date as a council to make whatever decisions you want to make,” said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.

The ordinance states that a worker or customer refusing to wear a face covering “for other than medical reasons” can be declined entry or service.

The council brought up an example of what could happen if a customer not wearing a mask refused to leave a store.

District 10 Councilman Lawrence McElynn explained that the violation would then become an issue of a person refusing to leave, not failure to wear a mask where there is no penalty.

“If the person forces their way into the store, the store owner should call 911,” said McElynn. “The sheriff’s deputy will respond and then you get involved with disorderly conduct charges if that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Tanner said if a person is asked to leave an establishment and they refuse, they could be given a warning of trespassing after notice. After that, they could be arrested and possibly face disorderly charges if the situation escalates.

Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island passed mandatory mask ordinances prior to the county council’s meeting. Hardeeville unanimously voted down a measure citing the issue of enforcement

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