CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A crackdown on mask violations has begun in the City of Charleston.
Livability and Tourism Director Daniel Riccio says they began issuing more tickets to people violating Charleston’s mask mandate starting on Jan. 11 around the same time Mayor John Tecklenburg announced the city was stepping back its reopening plans.
“We are concentrating more resources on various days throughout the week to increase our enforcement effort,” Riccio said. “Two random days throughout the week, we would have two teams of officers go throughout certain areas of the city. . . and look for compliance.”
In the last 11 days, Riccio says they have issued 361 tickets. That is a dramatic increase from the week before the initiative started when only 14 tickets were written.
The attention to mask violations is part of the city’s effort to bring down the number of coronavirus cases.
“So far it has shown that cases do go down when enforcement effort goes up,” Riccio said. “I anticipate seeing more compliance. The word is getting out with our increased efforts and we just have to keep continuing our efforts until such times that we feel we need not to.”
Word is getting out and people have started taking notice, especially business owners in downtown Charleston.
Jeff Diehl is part of the Charleston Hospitality Group that owns 10 restaurants in the Charleston area. He says their employees have seen 15-20 tickets since the crackdown began. Each ticket comes with a $100 fine. Diehl says restaurants are easy targets for enforcement officers.
“We’re almost in a mask trap. They stand outside, they wait to see somebody break the mandate and then they write them a ticket,” Diehl said. “It’s almost shooting fish in a barrel. If you stand there long enough and wait for someone to slip up, sure you’re going to find them.”
Jean Marie O’Connell works at Queology, one of CHG’s restaurants, and is one of those employees who received a ticket. She does not dispute that she was not properly wearing her mask, but says the enforcement is not equally applied.
“It’s frivolous. I mean I was six feet away from the other person. I was standing behind a bar and they’re personal friends of mine anyways,” O’Connell said. “I just don’t understand why it’s so important when there was a rally down here and there were hundreds of people in the streets and nobody had a mask on.”
On New Year’s Eve, well documented crowds showed people without masks and only 12 citations were issued. Riccio says they do not differentiate between businesses and the general public when it comes to enforcement.
“Our goal is not to disrupt business. Our goal is to focus on the public right of ways for compliance,” Riccio said. “These businesses have business licenses and that gives us the right to enter and check for compliance.”
Riccio says while there are some exceptions, like eating and drinking, the rule is simple: wear a mask or face a fine.