Richland County has adopted an emergency ordinance requiring face coverings to be worn in school buildings and day cares in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the delta variant.
The ordinance is aimed at protecting children age 12 and younger who are not eligible to receive vaccines, according to a news release from the county, and applies to public and private schools or day cares that educate or care for children ages 2-14.
All faculty, staff, visitors and children older than 2 must wear a mask or face covering while inside those buildings. Failure to comply is a civil infraction punishable by a maximum fine of $100, with suspension or revocation of an occupancy permit of business license possible for repeat violators, the county said.
"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 the citizens of Richland," the ordinance states.
Exemptions are included for those unable to wear a face covering safely or remove one without assistance.
The ordinance is set to expire Oct. 15.
Richland County Council previously adopted an emergency ordinance that took effect on July 6, 2020 and required those 10 years and older to wear face coverings in most public places. That ordinance, extended five times, expired June 5, 2021.
Last week, Columbia City Council approved Mayor Steve Benjamin's emergency order requiring masks in most Columbia schools.
Dr. Elizabeth Mack, a pediatrician at MUSC Children’s Health, said from an economic perspective, masks can help minimize the chances of extended quarantines and the pressures that puts on businesses and families.
“This means less kids on quarantine, more kids in school, less parents scrambling for child care, less sick citizens, less kids in the hospital,” Mack told the Charleston Regional Business Journal. “Children need to be in masks, safely in school.”
Mack compared wearing masks to putting children in car seats in automobiles and requiring them to wear seatbelts.
"We have the power to stop this. This issue is akin to child passenger safety or really any other public health issue,” she said.