By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Editor
In an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Sullivan’s Island Town Council passed an emergency ordinance requiring residents and visitors to wear a face covering in all retail establishments and also when interacting with others in outdoor spaces when social distancing is not possible.
At an emergency meeting July 1, the Council followed the lead of dozens of other South Carolina municipalities and unanimously approved Emergency Ordinance 2020-13, which mandates masks for patrons of virtually all businesses that deal with the public, including restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, liquor stores and laundromats. The law also applies to other places where the public gathers, such as The Battery Gadsden Cultural Center, the Island Clubhouse and the Sand Dunes Club.
The ordinance, prepared and presented by Council Member Bachman Smith, also requires retail and other establishments to mandate that employees wear face coverings while working with the general public and when interacting with other workers.
It specifically states that “all food service establishments shall require staff who interact with customers (including, without limitation, delivery personnel) to wear face coverings while working.”
In addition, the ordinance mandates that those in outdoor spaces such as parks and playgrounds; tennis, basketball and paddle ball courts; beach access paths; and those waiting
to enter a business wear a mask unless they are able to maintain a distance of 6 feet from other persons.
The ordinance went into effect when it was signed by Mayor Pat O’Neil the day of the Council meeting.
“This is something we did not leap into blindly,” O’Neil commented. “It received quite a bit of thought and study and discussion. We tried to be prudent. We’re at a point where we really have no choice but to do something like this.”
Council Member Sarah Church favored the ordinance, despite pointing out that she normally doesn’t like “overreaching regulations.”
“Workers are the ones we’re protecting here,” she said. “It’s important to provide a healthy environment. This will take the onus off restaurants. If people are angry about wearing masks, they can yell at us and not at the restaurants.”
The ordinance includes a penalty for ignoring the mask rule of no more than $100, with each violation considered to be a separate offense. It does point out however, that a warning may be issued “in an effort to bring people into voluntary compliance.”
Business owners or managers who fail to require employees to wear a face covering could be fined up to $50, and repeated violations could lead to the suspension or revocation of their business license.
Under the terms of the ordinance, some people won’t be required to wear a mask: those who cannot wear a face covering because of a documented medical or behavioral condition; children under the age of 2 – and adults accompanying kids up to the age of 10 are encouraged to “use reasonable efforts” to make them wear a mask; people who are seated and in the process of eating at a restaurant; those in private, individual offices; people complying with the directions of a law enforcement officer; those who are members of a family living in the same household and who remain at least 6 feet away from other people; and when it isn’t practical to wear a mask, such as when receiving dental treatment or swimming.
“This is not a political statement,” O’Neil said at the conclusion of the emergency Council meeting. “This is a public health measure.”