FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — As South Carolina eases statewide mask requirements, Florence city leaders say now is not the time to let up.
City council passed an emergency ordinance Monday that extends the city’s mask requirements for another 60 days.
“The medical community has made it clear this is not a time for us to back off,” city councilmember George Jebaily said during Monday’s meeting.
Masks are required in any establishment open to the public or foodservice establishment within the city of Florence under the current emergency ordinance.
“Even though we’re starting to have more mass vaccinations being done, we also have a virus and viruses are smart,” Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin said, who is also a healthcare worker.
City councilwoman Lethonia Barnes told News13 she supports the mask ordinance not only for public health, but for the local economy.
“You can’t get at the finish line and stop; you only win when you go through,” Barnes said. “If you go into a restaurant and there are too many people, or shopping too many people without masks, they’re not going to go. So then the business owner loses money.”
Governor Henry McMaster has taken a different approach. An executive order he issued Friday lifts the mask requirement in state government buildings and restaurants. They are now recommended in restaurants in South Carolina.
“We don’t need those anymore,” he said Friday of the state’s lingering restrictions. “We’ve worked through all that.”
The governor painted an optimistic picture while visiting the mass vaccination site at the Darlington Raceway.
“This is getting better everyday,” he said. “As you know, the numbers are going down.”
Cities like Florence, Myrtle Beach and Hartsville are all still under some type of municipal mask requirement.
Some restaurants that are not under a mask rule say they’ll have to ease up on customers.
“Can’t make someone wear them as they come in and I don’t want to lose business,” Co-owner of Mayflower Seafood of Darlington Bryan Stewart said. The restaurant is in unincorporated Darlington County, where there is only a recommendation for masks. “So it definitely puts us in a bad spot, but what are you going to do?”
Florence city council also passed the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would replace the emergency ordinance and would not require the extensions. If adopted on its second reading next month, the ordinance would expire either by “issuance of a resolution City Council declaring COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat to the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the City of Florence, or upon the expiration of the Executive Orders of the Governor of SC declaring a State of Emergency due to COVID-19, whichever event occurs first,” according to the city.