The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course July 27 on its recommendations for masks amid spiking COVID-19 case numbers and the growing threat of the Delta variant.
In counties it categorizes as having "substantial" or "high" levels of transmission, the CDC again recommends that vaccinated as well as unvaccinated individuals wear masks while indoors. In the United States, nearly two-thirds of all counties fall within those tiers.
In the Midlands, Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Fairfield, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties are all categorized as high; Newberry is categorized as moderate, meaning the new recommendation doesn't currently apply there.
Free Times reached out to some indoor entertainment venues to get a sense of whether they may update their policies in light of the new CDC guidelines. We will continue to add updates as we receive them.
Colonial Life Arena, the state's largest indoor venue, will not have a mask mandate in place when it hosts the Harlem Globetrotters and a rodeo event next week. The arena is part of the University of South Carolina, and as such, General Manager Sid Kenyon explained that it will follow state protocols, which don't allow for requiring masks in such a space. The arena will recommend that patrons, particularly unvaccinated ones, wear them, but that's as far as it will go.
"We don't want anybody to feel uncomfortable or to feel that they're out of place if they want to wear a mask, regardless of their status," he said. "But we are going to continue to recommend mask wearing, not knowing who is and who is not vaccinated. But we're not going to be really pushing it for people that are vaccinated."
There will not be any capacity restrictions on the arena's upcoming events, though Kenyon emphasized that he and his team will keep a close eye on COVID-19 numbers as the venue proceeds through it's upcoming calendar.
The Nickelodeon Theatre, Columbia's lone arthouse cinema, announced that it will go back to requiring masks when patrons aren't actively eating or drinking.
"We continue to prioritize the health of our patrons and staff," wrote Anita Floyd in a message that went out to the theater's email list. She is the executive director of the Columbia Film Society, which oversees the Nick.
"Our policy about safety is to comply with CDC guidelines and in light of the increasing rate of COVID infections, slow vaccination rates in our county and state, and concerns about COVID variants, we are again requiring you to wear your masks when you visit the Nick."
Chayz Lounge, the cozy West Columbia club that hews toward the smooth end of the jazz spectrum in its talent bookings, "just" eased up on its mask requirement, reported Executive Director Chaye Alexander. But she is now reversing course, mandating that masks be worn when attendees aren't eating or drinking.
"Based on the new CDC info, I do intend to reinstate mandatory mask wearing," Alexander told Free Times. "My decision is based on the increase in COVID cases, even for those vaccinated. The risk of things going back to where we were in 2020 is frightening so I’m doing my part to slow the spread."
The Columbia outpost of "live music joint" chain Tin Roof and the attached Senate, the city's largest rock club, have no immediate plans to change policy.
"Of course always a changing landscape with mask mandates unfortunately," Regional Manager Derrick Osborne responded. "We aren’t currently going to reinstate mandates for vaccinated individuals but (are) encouraging guests to take precautions."
As of the morning of July 28, perennial West Columbia rock dive New Brookland Tavern had no plans to reinstate any mask requirements, said Promotion/Marketing Coordinator and Audio Engineer Carlin Thompson. But he added that some of the staff has returned to wearing masks during their shifts.
"I truly don’t know how much more some of these places can take of reverting back to COVID stuff," Thompson said. "Not even just financially, but the s#!t that comes along with living in South Carolina and its people. We are all vaxxed thankfully although I know it’s not full proof against it."
In the Vista, Art Bar, which frequently hosts rock concerts and other entertainment, doesn't immediately plan to update its approach. Co-owner Andy Rodgers said they will keep an eye on daily case numbers and percent positive among coronavirus tests in South Carolina, but for now, they will let customers and staff make their own decisions about their safety.
"We are not requiring masks, but rather urging patrons to use them at their discretion," he said. "The difference to us between the previous mask mandate and the current CDC guidance is simply put, the existence of a vaccine. Patrons who want to protect themselves and others from COVID have ample opportunities to get vaccinated and hopefully most have done so.
"People (vaccinated and unvaccinated) who choose to go into socially dense spaces are assuming and accepting a degree of risk as are our employees. Far from an ideal situation, but we are working within the social and fiscal parameters of what we’ve been dealt."