HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – To combat the spread of COVID-19, leaders in Beaufort and Hilton Head Island passed mandatory mask policies on Monday.
Face coverings will now be required to be worn at all commercial businesses on Hilton Head Island. The town council said steps need to be taken “now” to protect the island and its citizens.
“While I would be the last person to find thinking that a mandate is something we need to do, I think that’s the point we’ve come to,” said Hilton Head Councilwoman Tamara Becker.
Under the new ordinance, all Hilton Head Island residents, tourists, and some workers will be required to wear face coverings in all commercial areas such as grocery stores, restaurants, bars, pharmacies, and retail stores. The ordinance goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.
It will be a criminal misdemeanor to violate the ordinance with a penalties of up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.
“A mandate should only be used in extreme positions, and that’s where we are,” Councilwoman Tamara Becker said.
Councilman Glenn Stanford claims that 80% of the people who e-mailed the Town’s website to leave comments were in favor of the mask mandate. Councilman Bill Harkins says large local restaurant chains have also said they are in favor of the ordinance.
“Any path toward normalcy and economic recovery really have to go through the community and public safety and I think this ordinance is an action toward that end,” said Hilton Head Councilman Tom Lennox.
Sheriff PJ Tanner says he too supports the mandatory mask plan. He says, however, it will be “nearly impossible” to enforce on the beaches and with restaurant patrons.
Tanner is urging other municipalities like Bluffton, Beaufort, Lady’s Island, and Port Royal to agree on similar guidelines if they pass a mask ordinance. He says this will make it easier for deputies to enforce.
The City of Beaufort also passed a similar mask ordinance Monday morning at an emergency meeting.
“While I don’t like any sort of mandate we must do something to get this virus under control,” said Beaufort City Councilman Phil Cromer.
Beaufort City Council passed an ordinance requiring face coverings for any member of the public who enters a public building, including all stores and restaurants within city limits, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. Employees of these establishments must also wear masks.
“We can’t afford to shut down our businesses and shut down our economy again so I think we have to look for other ways to mitigate transmission and spread.”
Anyone who is unable to safely wear a face mask due to age or an underlying health condition, or who is unable to take the mask off without help from others is exempt from the ordinance. Face masks are also not required in personal vehicles or when in an enclosed space with only household members.
“This is not forever,” said Nan Sutton, Beaufort City Councilman. “This I hope for not a long period of time. we have to get it under control.
The City of Beaufort says that anyone who violates the mask ordinance will be warned and then may be fined $50.
Council members say this was a difficult decision, but necessary to protect the overall health of the community.
“Just as someone may believe that he or she has the right to not wear a mask I would say that he or she would not have the right to put others in danger,” said Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling.
The Town of Bluffton is set to discuss a possible mask ordinance on Tuesday. Beaufort County Council has an emergency meeting set for Wednesday to discuss a countywide proposal.