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Richland County lets mask requirement lapse as one of the last SC holdouts

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A sign outside the Richland County government buildings advises visitors of COVID-19 protocols on March 19, 2021. The county's mask requirement expired June 5.

COLUMBIA —Masks are no longer required in unincorporated Richland County, one of the last jurisdictions in the state with such a rule still in place as more people receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The mandate expired June 5 and Richland County Council didn’t consider renewing the rule that had been in place almost a year. Private businesses can still require face coverings.

County Administrator Leonardo Brown said June 8 that Richland County will instead ask residents to follow federal guidance for those who have and haven't been vaccinated. He noted that the incidence rate for the county was now classified as low — meaning there are fewer than 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people.

"So it's a big deal," Brown said.

That leaves Calhoun County as the last S.C. county with a mask requirement in place, according to state emergency officials.

Calhoun County Council will consider the rule again during its next meeting June 14, council vice chairman James Haigler said. Haigler said the county seems to be moving toward letting the requirement lapse but that it's yet to be determined.

Richland County policymakers decided to continue requiring masks through the June 5 expiration date despite Gov. Henry McMaster’s order May 11 seeking to deflate all such local rules.

Other local governments, including the cities of Columbia and Cayce, rolled back their mask rules after new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the governor’s order invalidating local mask ordinances that referenced McMaster’s emergency directives.

Cayce voted to repeal its rule May 19 but still requires face coverings in City Hall. In that vote, Mayor Elise Partin noted that about a third of the state’s residents had been vaccinated.

“While we have to repeal our face covering ordinance because we can no longer base that on the governor’s emergency order, what we ask is for wisdom and kindness,” Partin said at the time. "The people in our Cayce businesses work hard and have every right to ask patrons to wear a face covering."

Cayce also recognized a day in March for those who died due to COVID-19 during the past year. Richland County officials were to discuss a similar memorial during a council meeting June 8.

Reach Stephen Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.

Columbia reporter

Stephen Fastenau is a local government reporter covering the City of Columbia, Richland County and general assignments. He returned to Columbia after 10 years as a reporter at The Island Packet and is a University of South Carolina graduate.

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