City may ‘request,’ but won’t ‘require,’ face masks
By Bobby Bryant
Darlington City Council won’t “require” residents to wear face masks to help protect them from COVID-19, but the city is moving toward “requesting” the use of masks in some situations.
Councilman John Milling submitted an ordinance at council’s Sept. 1 meeting that would have made masks mandatory for citizens inside “the enclosed area of any retail establishment or food-service establishment” and also for employees of such businesses who interact with the public.
Violations would have meant a fine of “not more than $100.”
Last month, the city of Hartsville approved a similar plan, while Darlington’s council last month deferred action on a resolution to encourage the use of masks.
“I think the idea of a mask ordinance for the city of Darlington would be helpful,” Milling told council at its meeting last week, which was held at the Harmon Baldwin Gym on Sanders Street to allow more citizens to attend while still practicing “social distancing.”
Face masks and temperature checks were required for the handful of residents attending the session.
“When I was first considering asking for (this ordinance), our (COVID-19) numbers were going up considerably,” Milling told council. Since then, the numbers have gone down and then up and then down again, but “the matter is not going away.”
Milling originally conceived the plan as an emergency ordinance that council could approve on first reading – an initial OK – then come back at its next regular session in October and see how the COVID-19 numbers were at that time. As originally written, his ordinance would have taken effect Oct. 9. It would have said:
“All customers are required to wear face coverings while inside the enclosed area of any retail establishment or food-service establishment;
“All retail establishments shall require staff to wear, and those staff shall wear, face coverings while working in areas open to the general public and areas in which interactions with other staff are likely in which social distancing of at least 6 feet cannot be observed; and
“All food-service establishments shall require staff who interact with customers (including, without limitation, delivery personnel) to wear, and those staff shall wear, face coverings while working.”
Mayor Curtis Boyd, who has chosen not to wear a mask since City Council began meeting in person again after months of video meetings, said he saw little point in ordering people to wear masks in certain situations when the city can’t really enforce it.
Councilman Howard Nettles said he wears masks when necessary – he wore one to the council session – but said he’s not comfortable telling other people that they must wear a mask.
“That’s the governor’s job; that’s the president’s job,” councilman Bryant Gardner said of the whole issue of making masks mandatory.
Gardner suggested changing the word “require” in the ordinance to “request.”
That concept – making the ordinance a “request” – pretty much carried council. Council voted 5-1 to give the revised plan initial approval, with a final vote next month. It will no longer be classified as an emergency ordinance, and there will be no penalties or fines.
Mayor Boyd cast the sole “nay” vote. Council member Sheila Baccus was absent and did not vote.
After the vote, Milling said: “I think it’s a good beginning, and hopefully it goes as far as we need for it to go, and it gives us a chance to monitor things over the next 30 days, to see whether we are still in good shape, or whether we experience an increase in the numbers.”
“And we can respond in either way,” Milling added. “If we are still doing well, then we can take a look at whether we want to have a second-reading (vote) or whether we want to amend the language on a second reading. …”