Clemson changes mask rule allowing patrons to stand and drink, bringing relief to many downtown venues

Libby-Jane Charleston

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Picture: Kevin Ruinard

Good news for business owners with Clemson City Council loosening rules around their mandatory mask ordinance. The changes openly defy the recommendations of local health professionals and follow the wishes of business owners and students. 

The main change allows bar and restaurant-patrons to eat and drink while standing. This follows moves that saw the updated guidelines over COVID restrictions approved in a 5-1 vote during a special called meeting Friday. 

"COVID is the demon here. I think this is not the time to give the demon more latitude," said Councilmember Fran McGuire, who voted against the amendment. 

Police Chief Jorge Campos will soon share the new guidelines with bar and restaurant owners. The mask mandate stays in place. This is what the new mandate requires:

  • Masks must cover nose and mouth 
  • They must be worn when outdoors, including when standing in lines to get in businesses
  • People must social distancing when outside and waiting in line
  • Masks may only removed when actively eating or drinking 
  • Restaurant tables must be six feet apart, with a total of 8 people per table 

This follows around three months of community debate on how to handle economic vitality with public health in the small college town. 

What's been difficult about the issue is due to the rules the city has on eating and drinking in bars and restaurants. Since the beginning of January, the police have enforced a rule that requires anyone who is not seated at a bar to be masked. This meant bar patrons could not drink while standing up. This has led to a major issue to bars' revenue in the downtown entertainment district. 

Several bar owners claim they've been doing only 20 percent of their usual business. One bar owner claimed the rule amendment is "a win," but he still feels the city will be keeping a close eye on College Ave. bars. 

Others are worried that the local businesses that make Clemson so unique will close if the restrictions continue. And others point to concerns of a new coronavirus surge if bars are allowed to operate fully.

Douglas O'Flaherty, director of the SC Restaurant and Lodging Association Foundation said many iconic places in Clemson are in danger because people aren't allowed to stand and play pool or stand next to somebody at a bar. He believes restricting standing groups in bars is the safest option, but the way the city has gone about enforcing it is not helpful to local business owners. 

Clemson University's chief epidemiologist Corey Kalbaugh wrote a public letter to the city earlier this week asking council not to roll back any of their COVID-19 restrictions. 

The current mask mandate and has been in place since June 2020. It requires people to wear protective face coverings in public, restaurants and retail. There is no statewide mask mandate. 

Mr Kalbaugh believes the community is now reaching the "social end" of the pandemic because many people are becoming fatigued with restrictions and rules. But he also believes by loosening rules now may spell danger. 

Clemson University has reported several consecutive weeks of extremely low virus spread in its community, according to their data dashboard. The prevalence rate is less than 1% out of tens of thousands of weekly tests.

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.

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