Mask Monday night

Audience members in the City of Aiken Municipal building await for the Aiken City Council's July 13 meeting to start.

Aiken City Council approved an emergency ordinance Monday night that requires people to wear masks in restaurants and businesses within the city limits.

Bravo. Now it’s up to our citizens to do their part.

Opinions were all over the place at Monday night’s regular council meeting. Written comments received before the meeting were decidedly in favor of passing a mask mandate, but the majority of people who got up to speak before council were against it.

One man, a local business owner who was against the ordinance, was even ejected from council chambers because he was yelling at council members before they cast their vote.

The emergency ordinance, which goes into effect Friday, will last 61 days and carries many exemptions.

The sticking points for those against it were two-fold: 1) they don’t believe that masks are effective or needed and 2) how is the mandate going to be enforced?

Council member Ed Woltz, who voted in favor of the ordinance, made this point about wearing masks. He cited the U.S. surgeon general and other experts who have implored Americans to wear them.

“I can’t argue with that,” he said. “If we don’t listen to (the experts), why do we have them?”

Aiken Department of Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco addressed enforcement concerns in the work session before the meeting. If police are called to a restaurant or business where a person is refusing to wear a mask, an officer will try to resolve and de-escalate the situation. If they refuse to comply, the person could be charged with a minimum misdemeanor trespassing fine of $465. If it escalates further, the maximum penalty is $1,087.50 and/or 30 days in jail.

Let’s hope common sense will prevail and no one will be thrown in jail over this ordinance.

Earlier Monday, Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon delivered the sobering news that he had tested positive for COVID-19. We wish the mayor a speedy recovery.

But his condition is just another reminder that the coronavirus can strike almost anyone. And he’s been wearing a mask when in public.

South Carolina continues to be one of the hotspots for the spread of the virus. It’s become normal for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to report more than 1,000 cases in its daily briefing. So far, more than 60,000 cases have been confirmed in the Palmetto State and there have been nearly 1,000 deaths.

Those numbers aren’t as high in Aiken County – 12 deaths and nearly 800 cases as of Tuesday – but on Tuesday Aiken again set a daily record with 67 reported cases. And, frequently, we are hearing about another big local event being canceled.

City Council passed a resolution that encouraged people to wear masks at a special meeting earlier this month. It wasn’t long before the majority of council was on board for an ordinance that had some teeth.

As one speaker said Monday night, “Asking people to do the right thing is not enough.”

We agree. Do the right thing by wearing your mask and practicing social distancing. If it takes an emergency ordinance, so be it. It’s the least we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19.