“I oppose this ordinance,” said council member Ronnie Roth as soon as council opened discussion about the ordinance.
“The U.S. Surgeon General as late as Friday said that he opposed mandatory wearing of masks,” Roth said. “He said it’s counter-productive. But I do not oppose a very strongly worded resolution to encourage all our citizens to wear a mask.”
Council member Megan Walsh said the presence of the many older people in the community was one reason she thought a mask ordinance was appropriate for indoors in public buildings.
“We all have to go to the grocery store and we all have to go to pharmacies,” Walsh said. “I have received numerous calls and they say that if they do not feel safe going to the grocery store in our town they will go to another city where they feel safer, so this becomes an economic issue.”
“The CDC has recommended wearing face masks since April,” Walsh said, “and this is the first meeting where many people have them on here. We would not be the first city to pass an ordinance and we will not be the last.”
All the council members said they had heard from constituents and Mayor Bob McLean said callers were divided about half and half between those who wanted a mandated law and those who did not, and he reiterated that the U.S. Surgeon General is for people wearing masks in public, but doesn’t agree with city mandates, rather explaining that educational programs to encourage mask wearing can be more effective.
“We all hate the situations we have found ourselves in,” said council member Gary Kuykendall. “I agree with promoting strong, strong language. We have heard (the safety guidelines) so much we can almost say them in our sleep but a lot of folks have let their guard down. Now with weddings and vacations we are seeing that now.”
Council members Danny Cook and Shirley Jenkins were also concerned that citizens of Clinton were not taking the safety guidelines seriously enough, and Cook said he would like to revisit the discussion of an ordinance if the suggested resolution did not help decrease positive test rates.
An enforceable ordinance needed a two-thirds vote. Council member Robbie Neal was absent, and the vote failed with yes votes coming from Walsh, Jenkins and Cook, and no votes coming from McLean, Roth and Kuykendall.
Council plans to revisit the discussion in 61 days or less. Walsh was concerned that council needed a guide on what increasing numbers would bring them back to reconsider the ordinance.
“It’s gone up and keeps going up,” Walsh said. “(The state) has among the highest rates in the nation,” she added, referring to the rate of infection among those tested, which is about 28 percent.
McLean suggested a marketing and educational campaign with the City of Laurens, which passed a resolution last week, and Laurens County. Gray Court was also suggested. Assistant City Manager Thomas Higgs told council he is currently in twice-weekly meetings with representatives from Laurens, the county and the county’s Emergency Management Department, and he will let council know about coordinated efforts to try and stop the current spike in COVID-19 numbers.
For more business from Monday’s Clinton City Council meeting, see the Wednesday issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.