Columbia’s mayor expresses concern after South Carolina Supreme Court ruling

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — There is disappointment among those with the city of Columbia as they face a roadblock in their response to the upsurge in COVID cases.

Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court sided with Attorney General Alan Wilson and his challenge that the city’s mask mandate in schools goes against state law. The mayor of Columbia announced this mandate last month as part of a city-wide state of emergency.

“We can do better,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin. “We must do better. We have to work together.”

Benjamin expressed his disappointment that the mask mandate in schools has turned into a political argument.

“This isn’t a partisan issue. This isn’t Democrat or Republican. These are children,” he said. “These are our babies, the most vulnerable that we have to protect and provide for.”

Columbia’s mayor is afraid the lack of a mask mandate could pose problems for Richland One and Two School Districts.

“I’m gravely concerned,” Benjamin said. “This is not rocket science. A public health crisis creates an education crisis. An education crisis creates an economic crisis. An 8 or 10 year old cannot stay home by themselves.”

He adds that he has talked to legislators about rethinking the mask mandate in schools and also hopes the state supreme court rules in favor of Richland Two School District.

“A lot of people are saying the answer is vaccination. Yeah, that’s part of the answer for those of us able to receive the vaccine. It answers no questions for the youngest among us,” the mayor said. “We are going to continue following the data. We’re going to continue working to build consensus advocating for children. The ball is squarely in the legislature and governor’s court.”

Another issue being discussed by the city of Columbia is whether to require its employees to be vaccinated. This is a requirement that has now been passed in the city of Charleston.

“It’s a deeply divisive issue but we have to approach it in terms of keeping all of our 2,300 employees safe so they can continue to provide services to the people of Columbia,” Benjamin said. “We see this not only a public health issue but as a business interruption issue. How do we make sure our police officers and firefighters can still respond to emergency situations? They can’t if they’re home sick.”

The state Supreme Court has yet to rule on Richland Two School District’s challenge to state law that block mask mandates in schools.

As of right now, Richland Two is not enforcing a mask mandate. However, Richland One continues to do so despite last week’s ruling.

Categories: Local News, Richland