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Infectious disease expert comments on maskless crowds at Charleston bars

Photo: Live 5 News

By Rob Way | November 16, 2020 at 7:00 PM EST - Updated November 16 at 7:30 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An infectious disease expert is calling on the City of Charleston to do “much more” after two videos surfaced showing crowds of maskless people outside downtown bars for two straight weekends.

The videos were shot from inside a car on the last weekend of October and the first weekend of November, and they show a number of large crowds outside bars along King Street, well-known for its nightlife.

“Watching videos of clusters of unmasked young people who are shoulder to shoulder waiting to get inside a bar shows stunningly stupid, irresponsible misbehavior in people who either don’t care about their or anyone else’s health or don’t believe in public health science or both," Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Robert Ball said.

The city has had a mask mandate in place for months, but they issued zero citations over that last weekend in October. Since July, 82 citations have been written, but a city spokesperson said enforcement doesn’t just include writing tickets.

For those who are caught, the first fine is $100, and their names are put in a database. The fine goes up to $200 for the second offense, and $500 for every time after that.

The responsibility of enforcing the mask requirement is split between the city’s police officers and the livability department’s staff. The police department’s focus is on the bar areas while livability’s officers patrol the more high-traffic tourist spots.

“The City of Charleston should be doing much, much more with its officers and livability team in citing people who are clustering without masks,” Ball said.

“We have to keep in mind here that the ordinance does have exceptions," Director of Livability Dan Riccio said. “Often times they say, ‘Look I’m drinking. I have a medical condition.’ We have to abide by the ordinance ourselves and respect their exceptions to the ordinance as the reason for not wearing the mask. We don’t like it, but the ordinance is there for a reason."

Lt. James Byrne oversees the police department’s effort in enforcing the mandate and said their goal remains doing things safely to “obtain the maximum number of compliance we can.”

“The videos might generate certain reactions. ‘Why isn’t anything being done? Look at all the people who don’t have masks.’ And, it’s not that nothing is being done, it’s that we try to address things intelligently," Byrne said. “Sometimes we need to do better. There are places and times where things need to be addressed, and we’re working on those internally to make sure that officers are not just turning a blind eye to those.”

Byrne added that the officers are doing a good job with what they have, but Ball said he worries nights like these could contribute to rising case numbers.

Charleston’s growth rate of new reported cases has remained steady and in the green. In the last two weeks, the city reported more than 420 new cases.

“Unmasked clustering of young people in bars and other social gatherings in large numbers contributes hugely," Ball said.

The mask ordinance is set to expire next month, and it can be read in full here.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.

Photo: Live 5 News

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