GEORGETOWN COUNTY — Mask mandate is set to expire Tuesday night after being in place since July 3, 2020.
Previously, the mask mandate was discussed and subsequently renewed as part of county council meetings, but the topic is nowhere to be seen on Tuesday's agenda. Chairman Louis Morant said council didn't add the ordinance to the agenda, therefore paving the way for its expiration, because of high vaccination rates in the county and a lack of outward support for extending it.
"None of the council members have been contacted by anyone to extend it, really," Morant said. "Since a lot of the residents of Georgetown County have been vaccinated, and things have been looking up somewhat, we really just wanted to put it on them to let citizens govern themselves."
Councilman Raymond Newton, during the March 9 meeting, prematurely echoed Morant by saying citizens should be left to decide whether or not they want to wear a mask.
"Why don't you think the residents of Georgetown County are smart enough to wear their masks without you having to tell them? Are we that much smarter than them?" Newton said before voting against renewing the mask mandate that evening. The renewal still passed 5-2 March 9.
According to DHEC, more than 40 percent of South Carolinians have at least their first vaccine shot, and Georgetown County is second in the state only to Charleston County for vaccine recipient rates, with 5,214 vaccines administered per 10,000 residents.
Morant said the council worked closely with the county emergency management director, Brandon Ellis, on the decision to let the mandate expire. Ellis gave credit to DHEC and Tidelands Health for pushing forward vaccinations at such high rates, and said he felt comfortable letting the mandate expire because of that and consistently low case numbers.
"We feel comfortable that it's time to exhaust the state of emergency that we have in place because all the other parameters in the state of emergency are not necessary to continue our operations," Ellis said.
As of April 19, 2021, the CDC said masks should be worn:
- By people 2 years of age and older
- In a public setting
- While traveling on a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the United States
- Around people who do not live with you, including inside your home or inside someone else’s home
- Inside your home if someone you live with is sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive
While Morant said he has not received any resident comments recently on whether or not the mandate should be extended or allowed to expire, at the county council meeting March 9, several residents spoke in opposition of renewing the mandate. Tim Dunn, a Pawleys Island resident, said during public comment that council did not have jurisdiction to issue the mandate any longer.
"American citizens have rights guaranteed by the Constitution," Dunn said. "So-called emergency ordinances such as this one extended indefinitely by local municipalities were never intended to become the normal way of living."
Morant said even without a county-wide mask mandate, he believes residents will still wear their masks when necessary. He and Ellis also said council has jurisdiction to reenact the mandate if infection rates and hospital bed occupancies go back up after it is lifted.
"We're continuously monitoring the local situation as well as the state situation. If we see information and data that comes in and, as a collective group, determine it would be necessary, we could definitely entertain the idea (of reimplementing the mandate) if the situation warrants it," Ellis said.