Bluffton Town Council unanimously approved an Emergency Ordinance today (Tuesday, June 30, 2020) which requires residents to wear face coverings when they enter any building open to the public. It also requires face coverings for employees of restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores and pharmacies at all times when employees are in any area where the general public is allowed.
Reasonable exemptions from the face covering requirement include any person under the age of eight, or who is unable to safely wear a face covering due to age or an underlying health condition, or who is unable to remove the face covering without the assistance of others; and any person traveling in a personal vehicle, or when a person is alone or is in the presence of only household members in an enclosed space, and people who are actively drinking or eating.
“As the state’s new cases of COVID-19 keep increasing and Beaufort County’s highest level of cases are from Bluffton residents, it was time to consider a requirement for face coverings,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said.
“As leaders, our collective job is to make policy which enhances the health and safety of all of our residents,” Sulka said. “We feel like this ordinance will help protect our community.”
This ordinance is effective July 1 at 12 noon. This emergency ordinance can be rescinded by a subsequent ordinance or is terminated on the on the 61st day of enactment, whichever is sooner. This ordinance will expire August 31, 2020 if Town Council doesn’t rescind it or take other further action to extend it prior to that date.
Each incident of failing to comply is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of $50. However, in accordance with the ordinance, “every effort shall be made to bring the person or business into compliance before issuing a citation.”
Plea from area healthcare leaders:
Russell Baxley, CEO and president of Beaufort Memorial Hospital, recently spoke with local leaders as well as published an editorial reminding everyone this virus is not “just another flu.” He said, “No matter your age or your politics, your behavior will make the difference.” Baxley said he has been on the frontlines for the last four months and he predicts the rate of infection will worsen.
He describes the Intensive Care Unit census as rising and the Emergency Room COVID-19 testing in an outside tent as “overwhelming” at times. Baxley said, “The Beaufort Memorial organization is weary and fatigued, and I thought in late May and into early June we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. This light seems to get farther and farther away every day.
“This surge in positive cases is due directly to the lack of masking in public. The only way to avoid overwhelming the hospital in a second wave is universal masking. The only way to save lives is universal masking. We are learning very quickly that Covid-19 can affect all ages, and this false sense of invisibility is leading people down a very dangerous path.”
Town of Bluffton signage:
To make this ordinance as easy as possible to implement for Bluffton’s business community, the Town will provide two signs reading 1) “Per Town of Bluffton Ordinance, Face Coverings Required” and 2) “Per Town of Bluffton Ordinance, Our Employees Wear Face Coverings.”
Theses template signs are ready for any business to print and display. Additionally, Town Staff will send an electronic letter to all business license holders, with a copy of the signage attached.
The Town will also be posting information regarding face covering requirements to its social media venues and website. All businesses and residents are welcome and encouraged to share these tips and information with their customers and other audiences.
Please refer to the Town of Bluffton’s and the Bluffton Police Department’s Facebook pages for frequently updated information.
Local and statewide testing:
Additionally, Hilton Head Regional Healthcare partnered with Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue, Volunteers in Medicine, and the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) to provide COVID-19 testing at Hilton Head High School Monday. More than 1500 samples were collected for testing at no cost to participants.
To stay informed of where additional mobile testing clinics are located, please refer to link: https://scdhec.gov/infectious-diseases/viruses/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/covid-19-mobile-pop-clinics. This page is updated as new testing clinics are confirmed. Currently, there are more than 70 mobile testing events scheduled through July 21. Residents can also receive a test at one of the 167 permanent COVID-19 testing facilities across the state. Visit scdhec.gov/covid19testing for more information on permanent testing locations.
Town Council members quotes:
• Fred Hamilton, Mayor Pro Tempore: “We are in a place with this pandemic where loving and caring for others is what God wants us to do. This is affecting families, lives and the economy. Our health and quality of life are the most important. I am voting for quality of life.”
• Larry Toomer: “I am not a fan of big government, telling people what they can do or can’t do. However, I have grown with my knowledge. I have listened. I have talked. I have looked at the numbers and while, some aspects can be as clear as mud, I have to say my family has been touched by this pandemic. I don’t want anyone to be in danger, so if we can save one life, I’m in.”
• Dan Wood: “This is the most difficult decision I have had to make since being on Council, however for me, this issue is parallel to the smoking debate years ago. People used the same arguments about taking away rights until those rights infringed on others such as smoking on planes and in front of children. Now, these rules are accepted as a part of our culture.”
• Bridgette Frazier: “I applaud my fellow Council members, we all have taken on a very difficult task of making, some would say, an unpopular decision. However, our goal from the beginning is to protect all of our citizens.”