The Batesburg-Leesville Town Hall was closed to the public earlier this week after at least two Town employees were exposed to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which has continued to spread in alarming numbers across South Carolina.
This startling turn of events unfolded as an effort by Town Councilman Steve Cain to rally fellow Council members around a proposed ordinance mandating face coverings in Batesburg-Leesville failed to gain traction.
“A number of Town employees – to include Town Hall staff – have either tested positive or have been potentially exposed,” Town Manager Ted Luckadoo confirmed.
At last one Town employee has tested positive for COVID-19.
“Those that have been exposed (to the virus) have gone and been tested and are awaiting results,” Mr. Luckadoo said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we just feel that it’s good to go ahead and shut down the Town Hall facility to the public for now.”
The doors to the municipal complex were locked midday Tuesday and a sign posted on the front doors, offering options for Town residents to pay their utility bills. Payments will be accepted at the drive-through dropbox in front of Town Hall, online through the Town’s website or via telephone.
The latest lockdown comes just a few weeks after Town Hall had reopened from the statewide shutdown ordered by Gov. Henry McMaster in March as COVID-19 emerged; that shutdown was reversed in mid-May. In the two months since reopening began across the Palmetto State, coronavirus cases have surged.
Just since July 1, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has reported more than 10,400 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed infections statewide to more than 47,200 through midweek. Hospitalizations too have been on the rise, with the latest DHEC report showing 72.9 percent of all inpatient hospital beds in South Carolina occupied; of those, more than 1,300 are coronavirus-related hospitalizations.
The ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus has prompted municipal and county governments across the state to adopt ordinances mandating face coverings. Cloth face masks and social distancing are among the precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as DHEC and other public agencies, to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
In response to the growing case count, Councilman Cain sent an email to his fellow Council members last Friday, urging a special meeting to pass such an ordinance for Batesburg-Leesville.
“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.”
The Towns of Lexington, Irmo, Cayce and West Columbia in Lexington County and the City of Columbia all have passed face-mask ordinances in the past two weeks. However, as of midday Wednesday, Councilman Cain had been unable to convince three other Council members – the number required by the Town’s Code of Ordinances – to join him in calling a special meeting.
The call to protect the vulnerable in our community is an emotional and very personal crusade for Councilman Cain, who revealed that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this spring, He has been tested for re-infection three times since and has self-quarantined twice after possible exposures to the virus.
“It’s a very serious thing, and I think that we should err on the side of caution when it comes to our community,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are infected who won’t get tested or can’t get tested or don’t think they need to be tested. But I had three weeks of pure hell in my house with the struggle to breathe. It’s just by the grace of God that we got through it. I wouldn’t want anybody to have to go through what I went through.”
The inaction in the face of growing COVID-19 numbers was troubling not just to Councilman Cain but to fellow Councilman Bob Hall.
“I am extremely disappointed that an attempt to hold a special meeting to explore a possible ordinance addressing the issue of face coverings within our community failed to garner support from my fellow Councilmembers,” Councilman Hall said. “Irmo, Cayce, and West Columbia joined the growing list of municipalities in South Carolina attempting to protect the more vulnerable in their jurisdictions by passing ordinances requiring face coverings under certain conditions. This is an extremely important issue and the views of all Council members need to be heard immediately.”
The next regular Town Council meeting is scheduled for this Monday, July 13, but Mr. Luckadoo said that with the shutdown of Town Hall, the Town is still assessing how that meeting might be conducted.
“If we’re shutting down Town Hall, this is probably going to mean that we’re back to our virtual meetings and Facebook live,” he said. “What’s the point in closing down Town Hall if we’re just going to open the door for people to come into Council?”
The Twin-City News will continue to monitor this evolving story and post updates on our website and social media platforms.