Hartsville adjusts to life under the mask
By Samantha Lyles
When Hartsville City Council mandated the wearing of masks in public areas, the new rule’s stated intention was to promote public safety and bring down the spiking numbers of COVID-19 cases in the city. Since that ordinance went into effect on Aug. 11, city officials say residents have mostly acclimated to the mask requirement.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who feel like the city took an extra step to make them feel safer getting out and doing the things that they have to do, and maybe even a little more comfortable doing things that they did before, like supporting our local businesses,” says Lauren Baker, City of Hartsville Public Information Officer. “That is so important during this time. They’re struggling and they need the community’s support.”
Tiffany Crist, owner of Crema coffee shop in downtown Hartsville, says that after a rocky start, customer sentiment seems to be coming around on the mask issue – though she notes there are still exceptions.
“When (the ordinance) first passed, we had a handful of people that were really mad about it and haven’t come back in,” Crist says. “It still surprises me when people are upset or roll their eyes. We offer them a free mask and let them know that if they don’t wear it and we serve them, we can be fined. But for the most part, it seems to be getting better.”
Asked if business has picked up any since the mask ordinance passed, Crist says that sales are up in recent weeks, though it’s hard to tell if that’s due to increased feeling of safety or simply because Coker University students are back in town. She adds that since Coker requires the wearing of face coverings on campus, the students don’t usually require any convincing to wear masks while shopping and dining in the city.
Holli Roberson, a regular at Crema, says that she feels safer patronizing local eateries and retailers since the mask ordinance passed.
“Local is always better, and they need our help now more than ever, I believe,” Roberson says. “I’ve still been going out, and even trying to go to more places.”
At First Citizens, the bank where Roberson works, employees have encountered a few customers who refuse to don a mask upon entering the building. Fortunately, they now have some backup from the city when asking people to use face coverings.
“We have a sign on the door asking them to wear masks, but we haven’t had a lot who don’t wear their mask,” Roberson says.
Although the ordinance allows police officers to fine violators $25 for not wearing face coverings, Baker says most of these early interactions have consisted of conversations designed to promote a sense of civic responsibility and neighborly consideration. Hartsville Police Department officers also have face masks they can give to people who may not have the means to buy one for themselves.
“There are negative opinions about masks – we’ve seen that and heard that. But City Council did what they thought was best for the community, and they did it with the support of our local health care facilities as well,” says Baker. “The health care community told us they needed help, that they were overwhelmed with patients. (The ordinance) was just a small step we could take to help our health care providers.”
The ordinance specifies these situations where masks or face coverings are required:
“All customers are required to wear face coverings while inside the enclosed area of any retail establishment, foodservice establishment, or city owned buildings. All retail establishments shall require staff to wear face coverings while working in areas open to the general public and at all times in which social distancing with other staff is not possible. All foodservice establishments shall require staff who interact with customers (including delivery personnel) to wear face coverings while working.”
Customers or employees of establishments found in violation could be fined $25. Establishments found in violation of this requirement could face a $100 fine, with that fine compounding each day as a separate violation.
At the time the ordinance passed (Aug. 11), the 29550 zip code represented 197 of the 404 active cases in Darlington County. As of Aug. 28, that zip code area represented 115 of the county’s 191 active cases.
The City of Hartsville’s mask ordinance will automatically expire in 60 days (Oct. 11), unless City Council sees fit to extend it.