Greenwood City Council voted 5-2 on an emergency ordinance to require face coverings in all food service and retail establishments in the city. Mayor Brandon Smith and Councilman Ronnie Ables were the lone dissenting votes.
“What we are being asked to do is unprecedented,” Smith said.
Before the discussion began, Self Regional Healthcare CEO Jim Pfeiffer was invited to speak to council.
“My mask protects you, your mask protects me,” Pfeiffer said. “Not the other way around.”
Pfeiffer said on Thursday morning, there were 40 positive COVID-19 patients, which was the most Self has had during the pandemic. He also said nine COVID-19 patients are in the 30-bed intensive care unit.
Councilwoman Betty Boles asked Pfeiffer about the available ICU beds.
“Twenty-eight of those 30 beds are occupied,” Pfeiffer said. “That number changes, it’s very, very fluid.”
Pfeiffer said there is a lag period between when someone dies from COVID-19 and when it is reported. He said the number of deaths is still considerable.
“The more positives you have, the more people are going to die,” Pfeiffer said. “That’s a fact.”
Self Regional’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Logan told council the majority of physicians he spoke with at the hospital are supportive of a mask ordinance.
Smith questioned Logan about what the minimum standard was regarding mask usage compared to other viruses. Smith even used a dry erase board to illustrate his point.
Logan said that maintaining a 6-foot distance outside with a breeze would be fine without a mask. He said when inside, there are many variables such as temperature of the room, air circulation and viral load of the infected person that make social distancing without a mask inside more complicated.
After Pfeiffer and Logan were finished speaking, council was presented four options: two potential ordinances and two potential resolutions.
Both ordinances were similar, with one addressing all businesses in the city while the other only applied to grocery stores and pharmacies. Councilwoman Betty Boles made a motion to approve the ordinance that included all businesses in the city, which was seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Miller.
Smith attempted to make a motion to amend the ordinance to have it only affect grocery stores and pharmacies. The motion failed to be seconded. He also made a motion to amend the ordinance if social distancing were to be possible indoors that masks were not necessary. Again, the motion failed to be seconded.
During the discussion, Ables voiced his opposition to a mask ordinance.
“It takes the freedom away from the people to make their own decision,” Ables said.
Councilwoman Niki Hutto, who was out of town participating via teleconference, asked what the county planned to do. Miller said he heard the county was not going to do an ordinance.
“All we can do is control what we can control,” Smith said.
Hutto said her concern was for the businesses that will have to comply with the ordinance in the city having a disadvantage over the businesses in the county.
The special called meeting lasted more than two hours and was attended by every member of council, whether virtually or in-person.
The ordinance, effective at 8 a.m. Monday, will require all customers of any business in the city to wear face coverings while inside the enclosed areas of the establishment. All staff of these businesses will be required to wear face coverings as well.
There are a number of exemptions from this ordinance. For example, masks are not required to be worn outdoors if social distancing of at least 6 feet is possible and observed. Also, exemptions are in place for those that cannot wear a face mask for medical reasons, religious reasons, or for children under the age of 10.
While dining in at a restaurant, a patron will have to wear a mask until seated. Masks are not required if an individual works in a private, individual office, or if being directed by law enforcement. Also, a mask is not required when it is not practical or feasible such as swimming or receiving dental services.
The penalty for violating the ordinance for individuals is a fine not to exceed $100. An owner, manager or supervisor of an establishment can be fined up to $500. Businesses can also face the revocation of its permit and license or be deemed a public nuisance for repeated violations of this ordinance.
The ordinance will be in effect for 61 days unless repealed by a two-thirds vote of city council.