The Aiken City Council is not currently pursuing or drafting an ordinance that would require the wearing of masks amid the novel coronavirus crisis, a survey of council members on Monday showed.
A similar posture is being taken at the county level.
"I would encourage people to use them," City Council member Ed Woltz said, "but we're not dictating."
Several South Carolina municipalities – Charleston, Columbia, Hilton Head, Beaufort, Kiawah Island and Greenville among them – have passed one form or another of a mask rule this month as cases of COVID-19 surge statewide.
More than 350 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus, had been logged in Aiken County as of Monday morning. More than 30,000 cases have been confirmed statewide.
More than 1,100 cases have been recorded every day in the Palmetto State since June 23. One in five people tested for the virus Saturday were positive, state health data shows.
"We're watching the numbers," Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon said Monday, adding that he does not consider his city a hot spot. Osbon in March declared a citywide state of emergency as coronavirus cases proliferated in the state.
At least two City Council members have heard from their respective constituents about a mask requirement. City Council member Gail Diggs on Monday said she had "been contacted by so many of my constituents in reference" to mask wearing. "And as a person that works in a health care center and also someone who was a former employee of DHEC," Diggs said, "I definitely believe that wearing a mask is something we should all do. Not just consider, but do.
"I wear this mask to protect other people, and I consider that respect, because I know how serious this virus is," Diggs continued. More than 700 virus-related deaths have been recorded in South Carolina. "Masks right now is the answer. This is not rocket science, but it is science."
The new coronavirus spreads chiefly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or yells. Face coverings, masks and shields provide a layer of defense – they "help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I've had numerous inquiries about it, and certain people are concerned," Osbon said of a mask mandate. "I certainly encourage people to wear a mask, and I wear one when I'm out."
The mayor and City Council members Ed Girardeau, Andrea Gregory and Kay Brohl believe a mask ordinance would be difficult – if not impossible – to police. Brohl emphasized personal responsibility.
"In my opinion, a mask ordinance is not enforceable," Girardeau said. "We can recommend that everybody wear a mask, and we think that's the best thing to do. However, I don't see how that can be enforced."
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster last week struck a similar tone: Fashioning a statewide mask requirement, he said, would be very difficult, ineffective and would be poor policymaking.
"Now, if the cities have the mechanism to enforce it in their particular area, then that is certainly up to them," the Republican governor said. "That's within their right."
Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian was unaware of any effort to require the wearing of masks countywide.
"Nobody on (County) Council has brought it up to me," he said. "The (County Council) chairman (Gary Bunker) hasn't said anything to me, so I don't think it's in the works by anybody. That doesn't mean somebody won't suggest it, but I don't know of anything we're planning right now."
When asked about the possibility of mask-related actions by County Council, Bunker replied: "At the current moment, none are being contemplated. No one has brought it up."
Staff writer Dede Biles contributed to this story.