Town Councilman calls for mask ordinance as COVID cases mount

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to soar across South Carolina, dozens of county and municipal governments have enacted face mask ordinances to help curb the spread of the deadly disease.

Now, a Batesburg-Leesville Town Council member is calling for such preventive measures here. Councilman Steve Cain issued a statement early Friday morning, asking his fellow Council members to unite and pass an emergency face-covering ordinance.

“Over the last four months, we have learned a lot about COVID-19 transmission, most notably that people who are infected but are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic play an important part in community spread,” Councilman Cain said in his statement. “The use of face coverings by everyone can limit the release of infected droplets when talking, coughing, and/or sneezing, as well as reinforce physical distancing. Therefore I am asking my Council colleagues to enact an Ordinance requiring the use of face coverings by the general public when outside the home in public in the Town of Batesburg-Leesville.”

Councilman Cain’s call for a face mask ordinance in Batesburg-Leesville follows action taken in the Town of Lexington, which issued an emergency ordinance Thursday afternoon requiring face coverings in all retail businesses, effective immediately. Lexington’s ordinance is in effect for 60 days until Sept. 1.

The City of Columbia and Richland County have issued similar ordinances.

On Thursday, nearby Aiken City Council also met in emergency session and unanimously approved a non-binding resolution asking people in Aiken to wear face coverings. Aiken’s municipal leaders fell short of enacting an ordinance enforceable by law, although several members of Aiken City Council wanted tougher measures to fight COVID-19.

“This is no game. This is serious business and people are dying,” Councilwoman Lessie Price said in the emotional Aiken meeting. “And you know, even though stats show it, there are people out there that don’t believe the numbers. There’s something sick — and I’ll use the term ‘sick’ — about that.”

The issue of wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus has been weaponized and politicized by some science-deniers and opponents of masks, social distancing and other preventive measures. Pockets of anti-mask activists have protested in cities around the country, claiming face mask ordinances are “unconstitutional.”

In Aiken, where emotions ran high at Thursday’s City Council meeting, Councilwoman Gail Diggs reported that she has had five family members to die from COVID-19. “This ain’t no political issue. This is about life and death, not politics,” she said.

Across the Palmetto State, more than 25 municipalities and at least six counties have passed face mask ordinances as the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) continues to report record numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases daily. In Thursday’s tally, DHEC announced 1,629 new cases and 19 additional confirmed deaths attributable to the virus.

In the two Batesburg-Leesville zip codes (29006 and 29070), the total number of confirmed cases recorded since March now has reached 169 people. However, more than 1,100 people were tested last week in two separate drive-through screening events in Batesburg-Leesville, so the case count is expected to continue spiking.

The rate of positivity among tests conducted across South Carolina has hovered between 17 to 19 percent since Monday. If that number holds true in Batesburg-Leesville, our area could see upwards of 175 to more than 200 confirmed active cases emerge from the first two testing sessions here.

Across Lexington County, there were 64 new cases reported Thursday, following 83 reported Wednesday and 100 revealed on Tuesday.

Unlike the Aiken City Council’s non-binding resolution, an ordinance in Batesburg-Leesville should be enforceable by law, Councilman Cain said, because face-coverings are in-line with preventive guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the White House coronavirus task force and other public health agencies.

“The Ordinance should mandate that face coverings be worn town-wide in the circumstances and with the exceptions outlined below. The Ordinance does not substitute for existing guidance about social distancing and hand-washing,” he said.

The proposed ordinance outlined by Councilman Cain would require face masks:

  • Inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space;
  • When obtaining services from the healthcare sector in settings including, but not limited to, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank;
  • Waiting for or riding on public transportation or para-transit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle;
  • Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when interacting in-person with any member of the public and working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time.

“The risk for COVID-19 remains,” Councilman Cain stated, “and the increasing number of South Carolinians who are leaving their homes for work and other needs increases the risk for COVID-19 exposure and infection.”

Batesburg-Leesville Town Council is next scheduled to meet in regular session Monday, July 13 but under South Carolina open meetings law could legally schedule an emergency meeting at any time to enact a face-mask ordinance in the interest of public health and safety here.