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Columbia leaders focused on education in first weekend of mask mandate

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising, the City of Columbia hopes its new mask rule will make a difference, but enforcement will bring some challenges.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the first weekend of the City of Columbia's new mask mandate, more face coverings and signage could be seen around the area.

Outside the Gentleman's Closet in Five Points, a white sign with a masked emoji is pressed against the door, notifying customers of the new rule.

Owner Dean Ellison said the pandemic has been a challenge he's hoping to be relieved from.

"It killed us," Ellison said. “I’m not sure what will help unless people get shots. That’ll help a lot I know for sure, but if they think the masks will stop it, I’ll wear it.”

RELATED: City of Columbia passes mask mandate citywide

The ordinance requires face coverings in all public places within the city, including busy sidewalks and outdoor areas where distancing is difficult with limited exceptions.

Credit: WLTX
People wearing masks in Five Points.

Businesses including restaurants, bars, barbershops, and grocery stores, are also required to have employees mask up when interacting with the public.

But enforcement will be no easy task, Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said, particularly in areas like Williams-Brice Stadium as football games return.

"It’s going to be impossible for us to really enforce it in that environment," Jenkins said, "Particularly, if I’ve got 60-70 thousand people without no mask on. What am I going to do?”

He's planning a meeting with the university to discuss it. The fine for violators is up to $100.

Schools are also a focus with masks now required on Columbia campuses, but no school employees will be able to enforce it after the State Supreme Court struck down the previous mask mandate by the city citing state law.

RELATED: SC Supreme Court strikes down Columbia school mask mandate

"The biggest challenge is going to be if the students are not wearing a mask, how we going to approach that?" Jenkins said. "We may just visit some schools, but we’re not going in there, going in people classroom, like hey, you got to do this, you got to do that, you got to do this. No.”

For now, he said they're focusing on educating the public that the ordinance is in place.