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Aiken City Council could finalize mask rules Thursday

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Thank You Sign, Masks, Downtown Aiken

A sign, thanking people for social distancing and mask wearing, hangs in a window in downtown Aiken. The city's emergency mask rules expired at noon Monday.

The Aiken City Council on Thursday will debate a new, more enduring citywide mask mandate, days after earlier emergency rules expired.

The council could finalize the face-coverings policy, with the measure, similar to what was in place before, taking effect before the end of the month.

“Should a simple majority of council pass this ordinance and the effective date not be amended,” City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh explained in a memo, “the ordinance would go into effect at 12:00 pm on Tuesday, November 24.”

The local mask requirements would end alongside S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s coronavirus-related state of emergency, documents show, or if City Council manually rescinds them, acknowledging that COVID-19 no longer poses a serious public-health threat.

The proposed policy – preliminarily approved 5-2 at a special-called meeting last week – requires the wearing of face coverings in all businesses, restaurants and facilities open to the public. It also references the governor’s decrees.

Exemptions include while dining and while exclusively with family members or members of the same household. Children under 5 do not need to wear masks, and the ordinance does not apply to public schools within the city, as the school board has addressed the divisive issue separately.

Aiken’s prior mask mandate expired at noon Monday, after City Council members elected not to renew it. The inaction – no motion was made Nov. 12 when the topic was raised – has been both applauded and decried by Aiken residents.

Mask rules were first instituted in Aiken over the summer; they were reapplied mid-September. A two-thirds vote was needed each time. A supermajority is not necessary Thursday.

Dozens of people have contacted the city to argue for and against mask ordinances, in general.

“I just read that the mask ordinance will expire on November 16,” reads one comment submitted to the city. “I sure hope you intend to pass the new one ASAP.”

Unmask Aiken Sign, Aiken City Council

Signs, some reading "Unmask Aiken," have been circulated at prior City Council meetings. City Council meets at the downtown Municipal Building.

“Please do NOT renew this, allow businesses and individuals the freedom to make this choice,” reads another. “If the masks work, then the people who are wearing them have nothing to fear from those who choose not to.”

Cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are again surging across the U.S. Thousands of cases and dozens of virus-related deaths have been confirmed in Aiken County.

City Council's Thursday meeting begins at 6 p.m. It is open to the public, but coronavirus restrictions will be in place. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city's Youtube page, as well.

The council meets at the downtown Municipal Building, 214 Park Ave. S.W.

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