Town Council meets Monday with no mask ordinance on agenda

A graphic from DHEC shows Lexington County among the counties in South Carolina with the highest per capita infection rate of COVID-19

The Batesburg-Leesville Town Council is scheduled to meet Monday for the first time since other municipalities and counties across South Carolina have begun adopting ordinances mandating face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But a mask ordinance is not on Monday’s agenda – even after Town Hall was shut down last week by a COVID-19 scare involving a possible exposure by two Town employees. Town Council will meet tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Batesburg-Leesville’s reluctance to act on a face mask ordinance comes as other nearby Midlands municipalities – Lexington, Irmo, Cayce, West Columbia and Columbia – have moved to protect the area’s most vulnerable from the virus spread. This, as South Carolina has experienced another record-setting week of COVID-19 cases and as the pandemic claimed its first child victim in the state.

On Saturday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced the first-yet COVID-19 death of a child under the age of five; the child was identified only as “from the Midlands region” to protect the privacy of the family.

“Today, we mourn the loss of one of our children to this virus. It is heart-wrenching to lose a child under any circumstances, and especially so during a time when we have all lost so much already,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, DHEC Public Health Director, in an agency release “Our state is in a dire situation, and we will continue to mourn the loss of parents, grandparents, children, friends and neighbors until each and every one of us steps up to do what is right, not just for ourselves but for others.”

Even as the majority of Batesburg-Leesville’s Town leaders have rejected calls by their colleagues Councilmen Steve Cain and Bob Hall to adopt a face mask mandate, Dr. Duwve reinforced the importance of COVID-19 precautions.

“No one is immune to this deadly disease, but we each have the power to impact the path this pandemic takes in South Carolina. Choosing to wear a mask and maintain physical distance today will not only help change the course of the pandemic in South Carolina, it will help save the lives of those around us,” Dr. Duwve said.

Councilmen Cain and Hall urged their fellow Town representatives two weeks ago to hold a special meeting to adopt a binding face mask ordinance for Batesburg-Leesville. However, they were unable to get the cooperation of two other Council members to join them in their fight to protect the children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations in our community.

At the same time DHEC announced the first coronavirus death among children, the statewide data soared to 2,239 new cases revealed Saturday (a new single-day record by more than 300 cases) and an additional 1,952 new cases Sunday. Of those, a total of 190 new cases were reported in Lexington County over this weekend.

The percent positive both days stood at 22 percent of all tests administered, and the hospitalization bed utilization statewide is now 72.7 percent – with more than 1,400 beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Late Sunday afternoon, DHEC also announced the state’s first two confirmed cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19.

“We continue to see more and more young people, especially those under 20, contracting and spreading COVID-19, and we know MIS-C is a threat to our youngest South Carolinians,” said Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist, in the DHEC announcement. “MIS-C is a serious health complication linked to COVID-19 and is all the more reason why we must stop the spread of this virus. Anyone and everyone is susceptible to COVID-19 as well as additional health risks associated with it, which is why all of us must stop the virus by wearing a mask and stay six feet away from others. These simple actions are how we protect ourselves and others – including our children.”

One of the MIS-C cases reported by DHEC occurred here in the Midlands, with the other in the Pee Dee. Both children were under age 10.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MIS-C is “a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs… MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.”

As the pandemic spreads relentlessly, and as now children in South Carolina are being counted among the victims of COVID-19, the question remains: How long will Batesburg-Leesville wait to join other towns and counties and enact a face coverings ordinance, if ever?