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Columbia enacts 11 p.m. curfew citywide as part of pandemic response

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Steve Benjamin and Tameika Isaac Devine council meeting 2019

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, left, and Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine discuss an issue during a Nov. 25 Columbia City Council meeting.

Columbia City Council unanimously passed a measure that institutes a citywide curfew amid rising concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The curfew, set to go into effect Wednesday night, will be from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The nightly curfew could last as long as 60 days, though Council could shorten that timeframe if the coronavirus crisis subsides. 

"I do think it is important for us to establish a citywide curfew," Mayor Steve Benjamin told Council. "The issue regarding public health concerns, combined with the fact that schools are out, we are going to have a lot of young people on the streets. We want to make sure we consider the epidemiological issues, as well as the public safety issue. I think it's a tool that the [police and fire] chiefs will need to make sure we maintain public health and public safety.

"We need to discourage people from being out and about. ... We need to encourage people to social distance and do their very best to stay home."

Benjamin said there would be a number of exemptions to the curfew, including people carrying out duties, such as police and fire, healthcare providers, active military, public works and utility workers, citizens seeking medical care or help with an emergency, or citizens going to and from work. The curfew applies to all citizens, not those of a certain age group.

Councilman Howard Duvall made the motion to establish the curfew. He says taking decisive action on a measure that could promote social distancing and people staying at home could be critical.

“The experts, including [National Institutes of Health] Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, say you need to take actions at the local level that you think are extreme, because they will not be extreme enough to control this," Duvall said. "This is an opportunity to get out in front of the curve of this virus. If we are a little bit too draconian, that’s better than not being enough draconian.”

Benjamin conceded instituting a curfew was not an easy call.

“This was a very difficult decision and not a measure we take lightly,” the mayor said. “To get through this current public health crisis and to save lives, it will have to be a collective effort between all of us.”

The city's decision came on the heels of Gov. Henry McMaster's executive order Tuesday afternoon in which he barred all dining-in at bars and restaurants in South Carolina beginning Wednesday. Citizens will be able to do take-out and delivery only from those establishments.

City Council's decision also came as the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced there were 14 new cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina, as of Tuesday, including the first case in Richland County. That lifts the total number of cases of the novel coronavirus to 47 statewide, in 13 counties. Nationwide the number of cases has crested 5,000, and the death toll across the U.S. has gone over 100.

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