Conway City Council passed two plans Monday night to get more Conwayites to cover their faces, one requiring some people to wear face coverings and another to encourage people to wear them.
The new requirement is already in effect.
In a lengthy discussion, council all agreed that masks are necessary, adding that they all wear them when they’re in public, and several said they require people coming into their offices to wear them.
Councilman Justin Jordan said working in the medical field, he wears one all day everyday, but said some workers including those in construction and dry cleaners can be adversely impacted by wearing one in the heat.
He wants businesses to tell customers if they’re going to come in they must wear masks.
He said he’s so in favor of the masks that he’ll give them to police and firemen and any businesses that need them.
Monday morning, city officials released a proposed emergency ordinance requiring people to wear masks, as well as a resolution encouraging people to wear them. The required ordinance makes it a civil infraction if people don’t wear facial coverings or masks when they enter commercial establishments inside the city. It exempts religious establishments, but it recommends masks during religious activities.
The proposed ordinance also required business owners and employees in restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores and pharmacies to wear masks when they are having face-to-face interaction with the public.
Exemptions were offered to people who are unable to wear the masks due to underlying health conditions, or if they can’t remove them without assistance.
The ordinance exempted people in personal vehicles, those alone in enclosed spaces or participating in outdoor physical activities, provided they are at least six feet from other people at all times.
Also exempt are people who are alone or with other household members; when they are drinking, eating or smoking; when wearing a mask causes or aggravates a health condition; and when wearing a mask prevents receiving personal services. Children under 10-years-old were first considered for exemption.
When this ordinance failed by a vote of 3-4, council began to look for a compromise. Voting in favor of the ordinance were Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy, Larry White and Jean Timbes with Jordan, William Goldfinch, Alex Hyman and Shane Hubbard voting against.
Their major concern seemed to be that as much as the face coverings are needed that they hesitate to force people to wear them.
Councilman William Goldfinch said he’s conflicted about the mask issue, saying he talked with 52 people in five days, most of whom didn’t think council should force people to wear the face coverings.
But Councilwoman Jean Timbes rated COVID-19 as possibly the greatest challenge that council members had faced in their lifetimes.
She said the virus is out of control and without action she predicted that it will continue to surge, and she told the councilmen that they held people’s lives in their hands.
She agreed that wearing a mask is uncomfortable and they don’t look nice, but said they had to put the welfare of their citizens first.
Goldfinch then suggested that the two sides try to come to a compromise. He suggested that they require employees and customers in essential businesses only be required to wear the masks.
They pointed to S.C. Governor Henry McMaster’s decision about which businesses are essential and which ones aren’t.
Alex Hyman then joined the call for making masks required in essential businesses. Some of them are medical offices, pharmacies and grocery stores.
Goldfinch also added that people shouldn’t be forced to wear masks if they can stay six feet away from each other or if they’re in an office alone.
The Mayor, a victim of COVID-19 herself, then pointed out that she went to the Conway Farmer’s Market Saturday when people were very close together and very few were wearing masks.
Goldfinch then agreed to add the Farmer’s Market, convenience stores/gas stations to the list of essential businesses.
That idea passed 5-2 with only Timbes and White voting against. Council also agreed to drop the age that a child must wear a mask down to 8.
The group agreed that police will have to use good judgment in dealing with people who aren’t following the requirements, stressing that getting people to wear their masks is the most important thing.
The ordinance will remain in effect until Aug. 4, giving council a chance to review it at its Aug. 3rd meeting. To show how much they think everyone should wear masks, the group also approved a resolution recommending that people to wear masks. Councilman Larry White said he favored the mandatory ordinance, "because it's become a public health issue, not just something to do."
He believes wearing masks could slow down the spread of the virus, or possibly completely stop it.
His advice to Conwayites is to be safe, get tested, social distance and wear a mask.
The resolution recommends that people wear masks inside of any building open to the public as well as when they’re waiting to enter public buildings; while interacting with people in outdoor spaces, including calls for curbside pickup, delivery and service; while engaging in business activities in public, commercial or industrial spaces; while using public or commercial transportation; or while walking or operating in any public, commercial or industrial areas where maintaining a distance of six feet isn’t possible.
The city’s documents point out that the Centers for Disease Control and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recommend that everyone wear a mask while interacting with others in public, and says the S.C. Attorney General has issued an opinion that the state’s municipalities may enact local ordinances requiring masks during a state of emergency. Also at Monday’s meeting, the Conway council extended its state of emergency.
City Administrator Adam Emrick told council that all city employees are wearing masks whether they are working inside or out.
He also said that beginning Monday night, all coaches and referees at the Conway Recreation Department started wearing masks because they can’t social distance.
He said there will be boxes where coaches can go to remove their masks and call instructions to their players.
He also said they are working to distance spectators by families. If non-family fans want to get closer together, they’ll be required to wear masks.