DHEC: Local mask mandates are working, data suggests

As the battle against COVID-19 continues, the Batesburg-Leesville Town Council still has not officially discussed whether to enact a local face mask mandate – even as Councilmen Steve Cain and Bob Hall have urged their colleagues not to blithely sit out the fight.

Now, a new report released Wednesday by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) shows that local ordinances in other communities appear to be having an impact.

A statewide DHEC analysis of local mask ordinances shows that jurisdictions with mask requirements have recorded an overall decrease of 15.1 percent of total cases for the four weeks after the requirements were implemented when compared to before the requirements were in place. This translates to an overall decrease of 34.6 cases per 100,000 people from before the mask requirements to after.

During the same time frame, those jurisdictions without mask requirements have experienced an overall increase in total cases of 30.4 percent, as well as an average increase of 24.1 cases per 100,000 people when compared to jurisdictions with a mask requirement in place.

“This new data shows us what we already knew, wearing face masks works,” Dr. Linda Bell, S.C. State Epidemiologist, said in a DHEC afternoon release. “We’re strongly supportive of these local leaders’ initiatives that are centered on protecting the health and well-being of their communities.”

According to DHEC analysis, nearly 40 percent of South Carolinians, or approximately 2 million people, now live in jurisdictions that have local mask requirements. While the Town of Batesburg-Leesville has sidestepped the politically volatile and emotionally charged mask ordinance issue, Lexington County also has no countywide mandate.

The Town of Lexington currently has a suggested mask ordinance that is not enforced and is set to expire Sept. 1. West Columbia has a mask ordinance, set to expire Sept. 9, that carries a $25 fine for violators. Irmo had a mask ordinance that was in place July 7th and was set to expire 31 days after the ordinance was passed, which would have been last Friday.

“We will be in a much better position in four to six weeks if South Carolinians practice physical distancing and use a mask,” Dr. Bell said. “Together, we can completely reverse our fortunes and create safe environments for our business recovery, for our lifestyle recovery, and particularly for our students returning to school in a few short weeks, but we must act more aggressively, and now.”

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has created a new tool to see where municipal and countywide face mask ordinances are in effect. The interactive map can be examined here.

The regularly updated map shows jurisdictions where masks are required by ordinance and where masks have been recommended by proclamation from local elected officials.

The new DHEC data on face masks comes as the daily count of new coronavirus cases continued a downward trend. On Wednesday, DHEC announced 712 new confirmed cases and 19 new probable cases. Of those, just 26 new cases were reported in Lexington County.

Overall, more than 102,000 cases have been recorded since March. The agency also reported 45 additional confirmed deaths and one new probable death, bringing the death toll in South Carolina to 2,057 since the pandemic began.

Compared to the number of tests administered in the latest data, the percent positive came in at 19.6 percent.