By Greg Oliver
CENTRAL — Central Town Council on Tuesday passed an emergency ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings in public places, nearly a week after Clemson City Council approved a similar ordinance.
Council approved the measure 5-0, with Councilwoman Paige Bowers and Councilman Ken Dill unable to attend. The only differences involved substituting Central instead of Clemson in the ordinance and changing the requirements of masks to face coverings.
The ordinance is set to expire Aug. 24.
Mayor Mac Martin said the ordinance is applicable inside the town limits of Central. But the mayor added that having the same ordinance as Clemson will, hopefully, send a strong message to the community about the need to take face coverings seriously to fight the spread of COVID-19.
“Hopefully, the feeling of people in the community is we need to do this for a short time to try to get a better result in the end, which is a lower COVID rate than we’re seeing right now,” Martin said.
The ordinance stipulates that individuals caught not wearing a face covering be fined $25 and businesses $100. But just as Clemson officials said last week, Martin said Central police will work to educate the public on the importance of wearing face coverings rather than issue tickets, unless they encounter repeat offenders.
The town has ordered approximately 1,000 face coverings, which are expected to arrive today for Central police to distribute.
“We’ll have masks in all the police cars, and if they see somebody that’s not complying or one of the businesses calls because somebody doesn’t want to wear a mask, we’ll go out there and give them one,” town administrator Phillip Mishoe said.
He said remarks by AnMed physician Dr. Glen Quattlebaum about how COVID-19 has spiked in Pickens County and the importance of wearing masks or face coverings led to council adopting the emergency ordinance.
“Dr. Quattlebaum said the highest peak is between (ages) 18-30, and that’s because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to,” Mishoe said. “The thing is they’re not going to get very sick because they are a lot more healthy. It’s the 50-and-over category that are most at risk.
“He fully expects it to spike again when the college kids get here. But what we’re trying to do is get it down and get it manageable before they get here and, hopefully, through education of these kids, they’ll comply, too.”
Between what the town of Central, city of Clemson and Clemson University are doing, Mishoe is hopeful the spike in COVID-19 cases in Pickens County will decline. But he points out that is only possible through cooperation from everyone.
“We’re asking people to do the right thing, really,” Mishoe said. “Your actions can negatively affect everybody around you, and the way to really protect the people around you is to wear a mask.
“If you’re outside, you’re fine, as long as you’re practicing social distancing. But we really want people to wear them on the inside. Supposedly, if you’ve got the 6 feet you ought to be safe, but the mask protects you even more.”
The town administrator said among the people exempted from wearing face coverings in public are those with medical conditions due to Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
“If somebody tells us they can’t wear a mask due to a medical condition, that’s the end of the conversation,” he said. “You can’t ask any more questions. That’s HIPAA — they don’t have to tell me what’s wrong or why they can’t.”
Mishoe and Martin admitted they personally don’t like wearing masks, but understand why they are necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“I’ll wear one to, hopefully, get through this outbreak,” Martin said. “Hopefully, we can repeal it in three, four or five weeks because the infection rate is going down dramatically in Pickens County, especially our part of the county. Hopefully, it will happen.”
Mishoe said he feels like he’s gasping for air whenever wearing a face covering, but added, “I know the importance of it and how important it is to protect everybody around me from me. They need to do the same thing.”
During the special called meeting, council also passed another emergency ordinance enabling meetings to continue to be held remotely through Zoom for at least another 60 days.