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Smaller Lexington County towns taking a different approach to face covering rules

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – Several small Lexington County towns have taken a slightly different approach to tackling the issue of ordinances that require citizens and visitors to cover their faces in stores and other businesses, public areas, or enclosed spaces. They simply said no and haven’t mandated that.

Last week, the northern Lexington County Town of Chapin and the Town of Pelion, located in the southwestern portion of the county, both addressed this issue at meetings of their town councils. The outcome of those meetings looked a bit different on paper, but both governing bodies said no mandate. Citizens should decide what’s best for them.

In Chapin, they were a bit more official, passing a town proclamation. This isn’t an ordinance or law at all. These simply relay to the public that the town’s government proclaims something for all to see, hear, and understand. They’re often passed as a way of recognizing someone for doing a good job in the community. Chapin’s proclamation says that they strongly urge citizens to cover their faces in places like stores and restaurants to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

According to Mayor Pro Tem Al Koon of Chapin, they had several thoughts that went into the process of drafting and passing their proclamation. First, they didn’t want to burden their small town’s police department with enforcing a face covering or mask ordinance which does carry the weight of law. “We have a great police chief and force,” Koon said. “We didn’t feel as if they needed to be distracted from their core mission of crime prevention and law enforcement. We just didn’t want to think that while an officer was at a business in town telling someone they had to wear their mask, somewhere else a crime was occurring that might not have happened if our officer had been patrolling.”

Koon went on to say that although they thought people who are in enclosed places or in any area where social distancing can’t be maintained should cover their faces, it just isn’t the job of government to order them to do so. “The adults who do business in town should wear one if they feel unsafe and it certainly is a good idea to wear one as a courtesy to the people around you. The issue is these are adults and American citizens. They have the right to choose for themselves. If I am in a store and see someone in an aisle who isn’t covering their face and that makes me uncomfortable, I’ll shop another aisle until it’s clear. Everyone should just exercise a little common sense here.” Koon did say that it wasn’t the responsibility of the average citizen to confront someone who isn’t wearing a mask in public. “That could cause an issue that would require our police to respond and I can assure you that Chapin’s Police Chief Seth Zeigler will have his staff enforce any laws against disorderly conduct or physical altercations.”

In Pelion, their letter suggesting that everyone use a mask in public places is crystal clear. Across the top it says. “This NOT an Ordinance!” You really can’t get much clearer than that. That town’s mayor, Frank Shumpert, and their council were extremely polite as you would expect southern folks to be. Theirs reads, “We ask that you please be considerate of others in public areas and take Personal Protective Measures to aid in the minimizing the spread of the virus.” Theirs then lists the CDC Public Guidelines and provides a link to those.

Councilmember Larry Sossamon said that they conferred with their small police department before making any decisions too. “We just didn’t think an ordinance would be enforceable and we didn’t want the police distracted by this. I also just don’t think it’s our place to infringe upon the basic rights of Americans. We’re adults and are capable of making decisions for ourselves and doing what’s best for us and our families.”

Both towns are small regarding their geographical area and population. Even though the Town of Chapin’s business districts have exploded with growth over the past decade, the population of the town has been much like Pelion’s. The number of people who live inside the towns have remained the same or shown only slight growth over the years.

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