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City of Charleston passes first reading of expansive mask ordinance

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 5:15 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2021 at 8:51 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston City Council has passed the first reading of a wide-ranging mask ordinance that would impact everyone in the city, including public and private schools.

City leaders passed the ordinance Tuesday night with a 10 to 3 vote. The ordinance still needs two more readings before going into effect.

The ordinance would require almost everyone over the age of two to wear a mask in public and private settings. In addition, there are built-in exceptions for certain medical conditions, eating, drinking, smoking and in situations where it is not feasible – like while exercising.

It’s the most expansive local ordinance and it applies to anyone regardless of vaccination status. The mandate would apply indoor building – both public and private – as well as permitted gathering like protests and concerts.

Compliance would be required on public and private transportation as well.

The ordinance also targets schools. The Charleston County School District has been butting heads with a state budget proviso that technically prohibits them from enforcing a mask requirement. While the district is moving ahead in direct conflict with state law, the city’s ordinance would offer them a level of protection and put mask enforcement squarely in the heads of the city.

That enforcement would done by police and fire department staff as well as code enforcement officers and the livability team.

The emergency ordinance would also allow for some exceptions:

  • Any person who is unable to safely wear a face covering due to age, an underlying health condition, or is unable to remove the face covering without the assistance of others
  • While actively smoking, drinking or eating
  • Any person traveling in their personal vehicles
  • When a person is alone or only with other household members in an enclosed space
  • Customers seated in a restaurant or at a bar so long as they maintain a minimum of six feet from other persons in the establishment
  • For people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering
  • In private, individual offices, or in an office environment when a safe social distancing can be maintained
  • When complying with directions of law enforcement officers
  • For children under 5 years old, provided that adults accompanying said children shall use reasonable efforts to cause those children to wear face coverings indoors
  • In a setting where it is not feasible to wear a face covering, including when obtaining or rendering goods or services such as the receipt of dental services or while swimming
  • In settings where it is not feasible to wear a face covering, such as physical exercise
  • Police officers, firefighters and other first responders when not practical or engaged in a public safety matter of an emergency nature.

Fines for mask violations would start at $100 and increase to $200, then $500 for subsequent offenses. A similar ordinance was attempted back in August, but failed.

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