April 20, 2024

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Columbia imposes citywide coronavirus curfew starting at 11 p.m. Wednesday

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Columbia has imposed a citywide curfew in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the Midlands.

Columbia City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday to impose a citywide curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting Wednesday night.

Mayor Steve Benjamin said the curfew will be similar to the one Columbia implemented after the 2015 flood. It will include exceptions for people going to work or experiencing a medical emergency.

The ordinance is needed, Benjamin said, because large gatherings need to be strongly discouraged in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“If we don’t see social distancing norms become more real, we’re going to have a real issue going forward,” Benjamin said.

Violating the curfew, however, is unlikely to get you in serious trouble. Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook told council members on Tuesday he would prefer officers not make arrests and to, instead, issue warnings or citations to those found out and about during the curfew hours.

The proposal was primarily targeted at gatherings in restaurants and bars, but as the council was meeting Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order closing all dine-in restaurants in the state.

Council members believed public safety would still be best served by a curfew.

With schools out for the next two weeks, Councilman Sam Davis worried that “young people will be out late doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”

“I’d rather do things to keep young people out of trouble,” Davis said.

Some worried McMaster’s action would not stop private gatherings where the virus could still be spread. State health officials announced Tuesday that Richland County has seen its first case of COVID-19.

The governor’s order may have paved the way for a unanimous vote, as some members were less willing to pass something that would impose more restrictions on businesses. An emergency declaration announced by Benjamin on Monday already limits restaurants to six diners per table, with a six-foot distance to the next nearest table.

“There are a lot of people who are pretty scared they aren’t going to recover from this,” said Councilman Daniel Rickenmann of the city’s small business owners.

Benjamin said he was sympathetic to the burden the latest changes would put on businesses.

“There are a lot of actors trying to do the right thing while trying to protect their livelihood and the people who depend on them to keep the lights on and feed their families,” Benjamin said.

The curfew will automatically expire after 61 days, if city council does not vote to repeal it earlier.

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