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Richland County joins Columbia in requiring masks in effort to slow spread of COVID-19

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Masks in Columbia (copy)

A sign at the Columbia Museum of Art tells guests that masks are required for visitors. Photo by Mike Fitts/The Post and Courier

More of the Midlands now requires masks when entering a commercial business.

Richland County joined the City of Columbia and the Town of Lexington in requiring masks to enter stores and other retail locations in a 8-0 vote on Thursday evening. The measure takes effect on Monday.

The vote comes as concerns about the coronavirus continue to mount across South Carolina, with the number of new cases confirmed by testing ranging above 1,500 per day and hospital intensive care units becoming more full.

The measure matches the one already passed by Columbia, and was enacted with the idea of having a unified approach regardless of the city limits, Richland Council Chairman Paul Livingston says.

Council member Joe Walker III, a conservative who often bucks the Democratic majority on council, had spoken out against the mask requirement in a recent opinion article he penned.

Walker said he thinks it would be difficult for the police and sheriff’s deputies to enforce.

“It’s already a serious challenge to enforce social distancing, and if our embattled police and sheriff departments would now be asked to ticket anyone an officer sees without a mask, mayhem would ensue,” Walker wrote.

Walker did not attend the online meeting when the measure was passed on Thursday.

Individuals can be fined $25 for violating the emergency measure, while businesses can be fined up to $100 for not requiring them of their employees. Council member Dalhi Myers said that the fines included in the measure were less than those levied for not keeping a yard mowed.

The county had performed an online poll to assess the situation, asking residents to submit their opinions on whether to make the mask advisory a requirement. About two-thirds of respondents supported requiring masks, Livingston said after the meeting.

Masks and social distancing are the only major tools the county has to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus, Livingston said, and requiring masks is necessary to protect people and to keep businesses functioning.

"We just cannot afford to have our economy shut down again," Livingston said.

The emergency ordinance will be in place for two months unless rescinded. 

Forest Acres and Camden have also passed measures requiring masks, while other Midlands cities, such as West Columbia and Cayce, could take action at their meetings next week. 

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikefittsat140

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