By Mindy Lucas
Beaufort’s City Manager Bill Prokop thinks the city’s month-old mask ordinance has had a positive effect.
More residents and visitors are wearing face coverings when out in public places, he said, something he and area health officials had hoped would happen as city leaders looked for ways to combat the steadily increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases in Beaufort.
“We hate to tell people what to wear or not wear, but (wearing a mask) is the right thing to do,” he said. “So, we appreciate people following the rules.”
As of July 23, the city had issued 123 verbal warnings to individuals who were not in compliance with the ordinance.
City officials have been urging voluntary compliance since the mandate passed July 1 but have said repeat offenders would be fined after an initial warning. So far, the approach seems to be working since the city has yet to issue any $50 citations.
“Again, our goal is education and not giving fines for not wearing a mask,” Prokop said.
What’s more, from July 16 to July 23, the city had only issued 17 warnings – further indication that the public seems to be coming around to the idea of protecting others by wearing a mask, or at least complying with the ordinance which requires adults to wear face coverings when in a public place. The ordinance does not apply to children.
Prokop said it has also helped that many of the big box stores or retailers such as Lowes, Publix and Walmart have since announced policies requiring customers to wear masks inside stores.
Still, a few businesses had to be informed of the ordinance, Prokop said.
“I’d say about 98 percent were on board. A couple didn’t think it applied to them,” he said.
Case in point: The company that owns Dollar Tree and Family Dollar recently announced they would not require masks in their stores but would request them. However, the company acknowledged this policy did not apply in areas where face covers were required by state or local ordinances.
“That’s the unfortunate thing with this whole thing,” Prokop said. “People are getting conflicting things.”
Despite the advice of health experts and medical studies that have shown the use of masks and face coverings is the most effective way to reduce person-to-person spread of coronavirus, Gov. Henry McMaster has refused to pass a statewide mask order.
As it stands now, the Palmetto State is one of 21 states without such an order, though South Carolina recently surpassed 60,000 confirmed cases and has had more than 1,000 deaths, becoming known as a global hot spot for the coronavirus.
Though he has received push back from the state’s top health experts to reconsider his stance, McMaster has said the state could not enforce such an ordinance and would not be able to make people wear masks.
In Port Royal, Police Chief Alan Beach said the town has not had to write any citations.
“The few warnings (we have given) have been verbal,” he said in an email. He also added that the town’s ordinance, which went into effect the day after Beaufort’s, seems to be working well, and that he’s seen people who have left masks in their cars, turn around to go get them.
As of July 27, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office had received 45 calls related to its face covering ordinance, passed around the same time as Beaufort and Port Royal’s. The office had only given two written warnings and had not issued any tickets or fines, according to information provided by the office.
The City of Beaufort recently extended its ordinance to Sept. 10.