Facing mounting public pressure due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Hilton Head Island town council members passed a face mask ordinance on Monday.
The ordinance requires members of the public and employees to wear face masks at any indoor commercial business within Hilton Head Island. This includes: grocery stores, restaurants, lobbies and public spaces in hotels, motels and timeshare complexes, pharmacies, bars, salons, retail stores, medical and dental offices.
Masks will not be required for those who are eating or drinking or persons unable to wear a masks due to certain medical conditions.
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said his deputies will do their best to educate the public and enforce the ordinance using citations and warning tickets. Tanner also asked if fire inspectors and code enforcers could patrol the public and help enforce the ordinance.
Hilton Head leaders will decide on the specifics of enforcers later, McCann said.
Those who violate the ordinance face a penalty of up to a $500 fine or 30 days in jail, Tanner said. The ordinance will go into effect starting at 11:59 p.m. June 30.
In the last four weeks, COVID-19 cases on Hilton Head Island — a town with 39,000 residents and more than 2.5 million annual visitors — have skyrocketed.
Just one month ago, on the Friday before Memorial Day — the official start of tourism season on the island — Hilton Head Island only had 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases. By Saturday, 226 Hilton Head residents had tested positive.
Town leaders in both Bluffton and Beaufort will also consider passing a similar ordinance.
Mask ordinances have been passed by Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville, S.C. (among other municipalities) in recent days as confirmed coronavirus cases have surged across the state.
Responding to the spike in cases among hospitality workers on Hilton Head, several restaurants have shuttered. In the last week: Mixx on Main, Tio’s Latin American Kitchen, Cool Cats Lounge, Main Street Cafe, Lucky Rooster, and Dry Dock all closed temporarily as a preventative measure to keep their teams safe from the virus.
Hilton Head is in a unique and vulnerable position in the COVID-19 pandemic.
About one-third of its 39,000 residents are over 65.
Among those under 65, a majority of Hilton Head’s workforce is in the hospitality industry where workers are exposed to contacting hundreds of people every day and heavily depend on the tourism industry for their livelihood, especially during the summer months.
The Hilton Head Island region is one of the most vulnerable areas in the United States for hospitals being overwhelmed by a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a news analysis by Five Thirty Eight.
A free COVID-19 testing event will be held today at Hilton Head High School from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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