Easley may join Clemson, Central in requiring masks

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

EASLEY — Easley City Council has created a committee to research whether the city needs to create an ordinance requiring masks to be worn to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

City administrator Stephen Steese said Thursday that council members discussed such a requirement during their June 29 meeting.

“It was not on the agenda, but council brought it up and discussed it,” Steese said.

The committee, chaired by Councilwoman Pat Webb, will research the issue and bring it before the full council at its July 13 meeting, he said.

The discussion was not impacted by Clemson’s decision to require masks to be worn in public. The town of Central also passed a similar requirement last week.

“It was something they were already thinking about,” Steese said of council.

Officials have received several calls asking about it, he said.

Research is still in the early stages.

“We haven’t put anything together that would be a draft document,” Steese said. “There was no further discussion beyond doing the research and bringing it back to council.”

Toward the end of the June 29 meeting, Councilman Brian Garrison said several council members had received emails from constituents “in regards to council passing an ordinance to wear masks.”

“I know some other cities across the state have done that,” he said. “I thought this was an appropriate time to bring that up. I’m sure probably some of the other council members have some comments and thoughts about this.”

Garrison said he was “a bit torn” about the issue.

“I know from a public health standpoint it’s a very important thing,” he said “I wear one every day all day when I’m in my office. But my feeling is mandating that our citizens wear that is another issue and I’m somewhat hesitant to go down that road right now.”

Garrison said he’s received emails and phone calls from residents and business owners in favor of and against the city mandating the wearing of masks.

“As a business owner, I’m requiring anyone who comes into my store to wear a mask,” he said. “I think that’s each business owner’s prerogative to do that.”

Councilman Kent Dykes recently returned from an Appalachian Trail hike in Connecticut, which he said is “a hotbed of the coronavirus at this time.”

“I did not wear a mask on the trail, nor did I see anybody else wearing a mask on the trail, but when I got off the trail and when I went into the communities in Connecticut … I rarely, rarely saw anyone without a mask,” he said. “If you went into a retail establishment, you had to wear a mask, as well as the people inside the retail establishment.”

Other Northern states Dykes visited on his trip also had “intense scrutiny on people wearing masks and protecting each other,” he said.

“My suggestion, mayor, is we form a committee and between now and two weeks, before the next meeting, come up with a proposal for an ordinance or a resolution at the very minimum … addressing this virus,” Dykes said.

He said he doesn’t want the city playing “catch up and waiting until we become the hotbed down here.”

“I think we need to be very proactive on this whole issue,” Dykes said.

Webb said she’d spent a week in quarantine until finding out test results.

“I really respect the need for the mask,” she said. “But before I could vote for anything, I want to know what impact that has on our law enforcement, what impact does it have on paying fines. Are we going to impose fines? I’d have to see how it was written before I could vote in favor of something like that.”

Webb said any store could have its own police “and enforce that.”

“If they can’t enforce it, then what happens?” she said.

Councilwoman Nancy Breazeale said masks work.

“But I don’t want to actually put the burden (of enforcement) on the police force,” she said.

Breazeale said that while she doesn’t want Easley to become a COVID hot spot “I think we’re not that far from it.”

Nearby Greenville County leads the state in cases, and the Easley-area ZIP codes are near the top of the list for the most cases in Pickens County.

“We don’t want it to get any more out of hand than it already is,” Breazeale said.

Mayor Butch Womack asked Webb to chair the committee. He also appointed Steese, Pickens County Council vice chairman Chris Bowers and Easley Police Chief Tim Tollison to the committee.

Webb could appoint others to the committee, Womack said.

“You all would just need to meet and try to have something for us, to bring forth to the council before July 13,” he said.