Charleston, SC’s latest coronavirus hot spot, requires face masks in public starting Wednesday

Charleston, South Carolina – Starting Wednesday, people in Charleston will be required to wear face coverings in all public places.

Those who don’t could be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for the third.

Exemptions still would be in place for medical and religious reasons.

“We think that this is the best practice for trying to flatten the curve, shy of closing businesses again,” Tecklenburg said in a City Council teleconference meeting on Tuesday night. “The numbers are going in the wrong direction. This is exactly where we did not want to be but here we are.”

The hefty fines are part of a series of new, stricter coronavirus measures Charleston City Council approved Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, Charleston County, once again, led the state in new cases with 412 new, positive cases reported. It’s nearly twice the number in either Richland or Greenville counties and more than twice the number in Horry County.

In addition to mandatory face coverings in all public places, including sidewalks, streets and public rights of way when people can’t stay at least 6 feet from others, City Council will prohibit bars and restaurants from playing amplified music after 9 p.m. and limit bar and restaurant occupancy levels. This is to cut down on the number of people frequenting bars and to cut down the number of people having to shout over loud music, possibly spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Bars and restaurants will be required to keep their occupancy at 50 percent of the permitted level or one person per 36 square feet, whichever is less. Those new occupancy levels only apply to indoor dining. These bars and restaurants would be required to post the new occupancy limits at their entrances.

Restaurant and bar owners are encouraged to reach out to city staff for help with customers who refuse to wear masks and won’t be fined if customers won’t wear them.

The only nay-vote came from Councilman Harry Griffin. Ahead of the vote, he said he felt the city should either shut down bars and restaurants or leave things as they are.

“This model that we’ve created with these regulations, these new rules put the burden back on the business,” Griffin said. “We’ve been wearing masks for two weeks — why haven’t (the numbers) gone down? Is it because we haven’t done a good job enforcing it?”

Charleston leaders have focused on educating people over the past two weeks about wearing masks and haven’t issued citations to date, city staff said Tuesday night.

Charleston police will have the discretion to break up groups of three or more if they deem the group to be a public health risk. Social gatherings of more than 10 people in public spaces are also prohibited.

The city enacted a face covering ordinance on June 25. It went into effect on July 1. That city law only required people to wear masks when they went into buildings or if they couldn’t maintain a 6-foot distance from another person outdoors. The fine, after a warning, was limited to $50.

Despite the ongoing rise of positive coronavirus cases in the state — now among the top hot spots in the nation and world for COVID-19 growth — Gov. Henry McMaster insists he won’t issue a mask order like those in over 15 other states.

Alex Tuhell

Co-founder and publisher

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