By Greg Oliver

The Journal

CLEMSON — Shoppers in downtown Clemson on Wednesday afternoon said they had no problem with wearing masks in public buildings, adding they want to do everything possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

People wear masks as they walk along College Avenue in downtown Clemson this week.
Savannah Blake | The Journal

“It’s just difficult to understand people (wearing a mask), but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said Mike Sofarelli, a Clemson University graduate who lives in Florida. “I’m not going to fight it. I don’t think it’s a rights thing, but is the right thing to do.”

Wednesday marked a week since Clemson City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance requiring masks be worn in public buildings. Masks are not required for outdoor activities, as long as social distancing is possible.

Sofarelli said his city in Florida has had an ordinance requiring masks for quite some time.

Chicago resident Amanda Layne said her city has also had requirements in place for a while. 

“It’s pretty normal there, but down here, it’s a lot more laid back than from where we’re from,” Layne said.

Clemson Area Chamber of Commerce president Susan Cohen has worked with the city of Clemson, including the Clemson Police Department, to hand out masks after the city ordered 50,000. Cohen said she feels like the ordinance — which Central followed suit with this week — has been overwhelmingly supported by the public. Other cities around the state including Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia and Charleston have put mask requirements in place.

“I haven’t seen a big pushback at all,” Cohen said. “I think the numbers are kind of sobering, and listening to medical experts has been pretty eye-opening. Some of their numbers and things we didn’t know that we do know now about the virus have changed a lot of people’s minds. I think we were kind of isolated in our little corner of the state, and it just hit full force and woke everybody up a little bit.” 

Cohen said she was in a store within the past several days when a person walked inside not wearing a mask. 

“The employee made him buy one before she would let him walk around the store,” Cohen said. “I applaud her for that.”

Police have been called

Interim Police Chief Jeff Stone said he has yet to encounter any resistance from the public.

“When we’ve given people the masks and talked to them, they’ve complied,” Stone said. “So far, we haven’t run into anyone who’s been difficult. Hopefully, it will stay that way.”

While he has yet to receive calls from business owners, Stone said some residents have called the police department to complain about people in businesses who aren’t wearing masks.

“The businesses have complied, and we haven’t had any complaints about employees not wearing masks,” Stone said. “It may be people coming in off the street and not wearing one. So, we focused on those areas once we were aware and took extra masks out there, spending time there. We’ve been successful and gotten a lot of cooperation.”

Stone said his department received 2,000 masks, which were donated by the chamber and the Community Foundation of Greater Clemson, as well as a portion of the 50,000 ordered by the city. The interim chief said he is making sure his department is more visible in its day-to-day patrol.

What he has found so far is that “people are not 100 percent aware of the ordinance.”

“They don’t realize you aren’t required to wear the mask walking up and down the sidewalk as long as you maintain social distance,” Stone said. “There’s a big educational component we need to make sure we’re getting out there.”

Closer to 100 percent

In addition, Stone said he has been working with Clemson University Police Chief Greg Mullen on plans to educate Clemson University students in preparation for their return to campus. The pair has been holding weekly meetings “to discuss getting the word out.” Clemson University has also instituted its own mask requirement for both students and employees.

City Councilwoman Alesia Smith said she was pleased with what she saw in public earlier this week.

“I can’t say it was 100 percent, but I would estimate a good 85-90 percent of the people were wearing masks,” Smith said. “But we have the Fourth of July coming, and when people come back from the Fourth of July, we’ll see what that looks like.”

Central Town Council on Tuesday night passed its own ordinance virtually identical to Clemson’s, with face coverings rather than masks emphasized. Smith is hopeful other neighboring municipalities will soon follow.

“I know there’s some momentum in Easley and some citizens who started a group, lobbying with their council to pass an ordinance,” Smith said. “I’m not sure about Pendleton and Seneca, but it would be extremely helpful if we could get these numbers to decline.”

Nick Underwood of Seneca said he feels the mask ordinance “is a great idea” in which “everyone is going to have to cooperate.”

“If we are to get healthier, some forms of personal rights are going to have to be violated as far as masks in public,” Underwood said. 

When asked whether Seneca and other neighboring municipalities should follow suit, Underwood replied, “If they want to take all the necessary precautions to keep the virus from spreading, then yes, I do believe this is a good idea.”

Ronnie McKeown of Pickens said people need to start putting others first.

“Don’t think about yourself, think about someone else,” McKeown said. “You might kill them (by refusing to wear a mask).”

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