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Aiken City Council to discuss mask mandate at Monday meeting

  • Updated

The Aiken City Council will consider two ordinances that mandate the wearing of masks to choose from at its Monday night meeting. 

Council members can either vote for an "emergency" ordinance which will only need one reading and will stay in effect for 61 days, if approved, or a regular ordinance that will require readings from council; the first at Monday night's meeting followed by the second and final reading at the July 27 meeting. 

The ordinances will be discussed at the council's 5 p.m. work session in the Municipal Building at 214 Park Ave. S.W. Votes will be held at the regular 7 p.m. meeting. 

Both ordinances mandate that residents will need to wear masks in food and retail establishments.

Both would also allow for several exceptions including:

1. In outdoor or in enclosed areas in which social distancing of at least 6 feet is possible.

2. For people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering.

3. For those who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or behavioral condition.

4. For children under the age of 10.

5. For patrons of food service establishments while dining.

6. In private, individual offices.

7. When complying with directions of law enforcement officers.

8. In settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering.

9. While walking, when doing outdoor or indoor physical activity.

10. Public Safety officers or other first responders when not practical or engaged in a public safety or emergency nature or persons engaged in repair, installation or maintenance of infrastructure.

11. While exclusively with members of a family or the same household, and no person other than such family or household is within the same enclosed area.

The ordinance would require businesses to contact public safety if patrons in these establishments fail to comply with the ordinance. The penalty is trespassing, a misdemeanor according to the S.C. Code of Laws.

The Aiken City Council passed a resolution encouraging Aiken residents to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces at a special July 2 meeting. After council passed the vote, several Council members debated a mask mandate, following the example of other communities around South Carolina and beyond. 

Council member Ed Woltz described the resolution as having "no teeth" due to enforcement issues and agreed that a mask mandate in the city needed to be considered.

"[The resolution] is just a 'please do it,'" Woltz said. 

Council member Gail Diggs, who has had several family members die from the coronavirus, was adamant about constructing a mask mandate ordinance due to the recent spike in cases.

"This virus is not going away right now, it has too many willing hosts," she said. 

Mayor Rick Osbon stated during the July 2 meeting that the city would continue to educate residents on social distancing strategies.

To abide by health official guidelines, only 22 people at a time will be allowed in the council chambers. Officials will pass out masks to individuals who enter the chamber.

Individuals are asked to exit the chamber once they conclude their business with the council.

Individuals may also email comments to the council at publiccomment@cityofaikensc.gov. Comments will be read during the meeting and submitted into public record.

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