All of Conway’s city council now agrees with Councilwoman Jean Timbes that it’s never too late to do the right thing, and wearing masks in all public places and inside of businesses is the right thing.
In a unanimous vote Monday evening, they adopted an ordinance suggested by the Municipal Association of South Carolina that requires masks in retail businesses, organizations, establishments or facilities open to the public within the city that includes grocery stores, convenience stores and any other establishment engaged in the retail sale of non-prepared foods.
It also includes commercial stores engaged in the retail sale of goods or services to the public including clothing-accessory stores, jewelry, luggage and leather goods stores; department stores, hardware and home improvement stores; book, craft and music stores; florists and flower stores; and all other stores that sell supplies for household consumption or use; pharmacies and other stores that sell medications or medical supplies; alcoholic beverages stores; and Laundromats.
Inside of restaurants, employees must wear masks, but customers can remove them as soon as they’re seated.
People are not required to wear them outside when they are recreating – playing games like tennis or soccer; if their religious beliefs forbid it; if they have medical conditions that would be worsened by a mask; in private, individual offices; when complying with law enforcement directives; when it isn’t practical, for instance at a dentist office; and when they are with family members only.
Two weeks ago, council voted to require the masks in essential businesses only, in other words, places where people have no choice but to go, like grocery stores and pharmacies. Councilmen Alex Hyman, Shane Hubbard, William Goldfinch and Justin Jordan all agreed not to make the masks mandatory for all businesses.
But all four had changes of heart this week, and agreed to make the masks mandatory for all businesses until Aug. 18 when its members will review the situation and extend or rescind the order.
Since council first voted to make masks mandatory in some situations, the Conway Police Department has not ticketed anyone. The fine is $100 for employers, but only $25 for others for each offense. However, enough infractions can cause a business to lose its business license or be closed down.
Conway Police Chief Dale Long says his department has received complaints, but not an overwhelming number, about people not wearing masks, but they have chosen to use their discretion and try to solve the problem by convincing people to do the right thing.
City Administrator Adam Emrick made the case for wearing masks by showing how much Conway’s COVID numbers have grown in past weeks, but pointing out that they have dropped a little in recent days.
He said the city has been having two to five cases a week among its employees, numbers he sees as manageable; however, he said if five firemen became infected one week and five more the next week, it would make fighting fire in the city difficult, adding that the city can’t let people’s houses burn down.
Hyman said after the first rules were passed he had seen someone not wearing a mask in an essential business ridiculing someone who was wearing one. He said he found it sickening.
Then he went to a restaurant where employees were wearing the masks and he was wearing one and it made him feel safe.
Councilman William Goldfinch wanted to add the same requirement for bars that restaurants will have now. In other words, if people are seated, they won’t have to wear masks. He thinks that will keep the businesses from having the standing shoulder-to-shoulder problem that some areas have been facing.
He said he visited Charleston recently where he thought compliance was near 100 percent. He said after a while it almost felt normal.
“I think this is doing the right thing and I think we need to do this,” he said of passing the new ordinance.
Timbes thanked the other council members for their changes of heart, saying if people don’t wear them, area residents and visitors will find themselves quarantined to home again and the area’s economy will be ruined.
“But I particularly believe in the strength of this community. We’re Conway strong,” she said, adding that she’s weary of people saying their rights are being infringed upon if they have to wear a mask.
She believes if everyone comes together and wears them for just a few weeks that “we could turn this thing around, at least here in Conway.”
Councilman Shane Hubbard said one of the reasons he voted against the mandatory wearing of masks two weeks ago was due to the way the language read, making it appear that employees would be responsible for enforcing the rules with their customers, and he feared it would be difficult for police, but he thinks both of those possible problems have been taken care of.
“If one person doesn’t get sick or one person doesn’t die, I think we’ve done the right thing,” he said.
Another change council made to the ordinance was to drop the age that masks become mandatory from 8-years-old to 5-years