Charleston's elected leaders extended the city's mask ordinance for another month as coronavirus cases in South Carolina plateau and vaccines continue to be rolled out.
The members of Charleston's City Council debated the emergency ordinance for more than half an hour, and came to a compromise to extend it with several significant changes.
Council members amended the rules to allow people to avoid face coverings in most outdoor settings, and they decided to stop issuing fines to people who refuse to follow the law.
"I think it's a step-by-step process," Mayor John Tecklenburg said prior to the vote. "We are almost out of the woods, but we are not there yet."
City staff explained that the ordinance would still "strongly encourage" people to wear masks in all public settings in Charleston, but it limits the mask requirements largely to indoor settings, including restaurants, retail businesses, city-owned buildings and on public transportation.
The mask requirements, city staff said, would also not be enforced in office settings where people can socially distance.
Several council members cited the growing number of people who are fully vaccinated as the reason they wanted to amend the city's rules. Council members Harry Griffin and Kevin Shealy, who initially wanted to get rid of the entire ordinance, emphasized that any adult who wants to get a vaccine is now eligible to do so.
"It's called the free will of the people," Griffin said.
"We're in much better shape than when we discussed this last time," Shealy added.
The council members got rid of the fines for not complying with the mask requirements in order to lessen the burden on the city's livability department, which was charged with enforcing the rules.
"People who are going to wear a mask are going to wear a mask," Councilman Ross Appel said. "Laws can only go so far."
New cases reported: 447 confirmed, 256 probable.
Total cases in S.C.: 472,310 confirmed, 91,818 probable.
Percent positive: 5 percent.
New deaths reported: 12 confirmed, 1 probable.
Total deaths in S.C.: 8,177 confirmed, 1,112 probable.
Percent of ICU beds filled: 69 percent.
How S.C. ranks
South Carolina ranks 39th in the nation regarding the number of vaccines administered per 100,000 people as of April 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the total number of newly confirmed cases, Greenville County (66), Spartanburg County (61) and York County (47) saw the highest totals.
What about tri-county?
Charleston County had 29 new cases on April 13, while Berkeley had 16 and Dorchester 13.
Four of the new confirmed deaths reported were patients age 35 to 64, and seven were 65 and older. One was a young adult age 18 to 34.
Of the 544 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of April 13, 144 were in the ICU and 65 were using ventilators.
What do experts say?
According to a state-level report generated by the White House each week, South Carolina has the 19th-lowest number of new COVID-19 cases, adjusted for the size of each state's population. South Carolina ranks 13th in the number of new deaths reported during the first week of April. (In both rankings, the No. 1 slot is given to the state with the least transmission or the fewest deaths).
Although cases have plateaued, the majority of counties in the state are still considered to have "high transmission" of COVID-19. Counties in the Upstate are in the worst shape.