In response to rising cases of the coronavirus delta variant in the community, Richland County Council has adopted an emergency ordinance requiring face coverings to be worn in school buildings and daycare facilitiesto slow the spread of the disease.
As outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of COVID-19. Council’s emergency ordinance aims to protect children age 12 and younger, who currently cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The ordinance, focusing on public and private schools or day cares whose purpose is to educate or care for children ages 2-14, requires all faculty, staff, visitors and children older than 2 to wear a mask or face covering while inside those buildings. The ordinance does not apply to high schools.
Exemptions are included for those unable to safely wear a face covering because of age or an underlying health condition, and for those unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
Failure to comply with the County ordinance is a civil infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $100. Repeated violations by anyone who owns, manages or operates a school or day care could lead to the suspension or revocation of an occupancy permit or business license.
The ordinance is set to expire October 15.
Richland County Council’s decision to implement the ordinance follows an attempt by the state Legislature to preempt school districts’ authority to require face coverings. The Legislature included a proviso in the state’s annual budget threatening districts with a loss of funding if they attempt to enact or enforce a mask policy.
Council’s ordinance states: “Failure to undertake decisive action will cause detrimental harm to the general health, safety and welfare of the County, and the members of the County Council must take any and all steps to save lives and protect the welfare of all of the citizens of Richland.”
In developing the ordinance, County Council cited the state’s low reported vaccination rates, as well as problems in neighboring Kershaw County:
• Less than 45 percent of eligible South Carolina residents were fully vaccinated by the end of July, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.
• The Kershaw County School District recently had 113 students and 19 staff members test positive for COVID-19, including 48 elementary school students. In response, the district quarantined 541 students, with elementary students comprising just under half that number.
County Council previously adopted an emergency ordinance that took effect July 6, 2020, and required people over 10 years old to wear face coverings while in most public places. County Council extended the ordinance five times. It expired June 5, 2021.