Myrtle Beach will now require face masks be worn in public places following weeks of coronavirus cases rising significantly in both South Carolina and Horry County.
The Myrtle Beach City Council met in a special meeting Thursday morning to approve a motion that allows City Manager John Pedersen to issue an executive order requiring residents and visitors to wear face masks or coverings in all retail, personal service, food establishments, hotels, amusements and where a six foot distance can’t be observed.
The decision comes as the city prepares for thousands of tourists to inundate the area for the July 4 holiday.
“We’ve tried this voluntarily for over a month and many have been very, very good but others have ignored our voluntary requests, our pleas, and they have gone home and become very ill,” Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan said. “We need to flatten the curve in our great state and in our Grand Strand, specifically in Myrtle Beach.”
The order will go into effect on Friday, and will remain in effect for the next 67 days, or Sept. 9, unless council rescinds the order.
The order does not affect the beaches.
The policy calls for face masks to be worn in all retail businesses or establishments that are open to the public. These include grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, laundromats, barbershops and hair salons, gyms and fitness facilities, amusements, and professional service buildings, such as real estate offices, accounting firms and attorney offices.
Additionally, the order will apply to commercial retail establishments, including sporting goods, beachwear, furniture and home-furnishing stores. Floral shops, department stores, clothing, shoe, jewelry, luggage, hardware and home-improvement, book, craft and music stores are also included.
Furthermore, the order states that all customers and staff are required to wear face coverings while inside an enclosed area of any retail, food or hotel establishment, when interacting with the public or staff, and when social distancing isn’t feasible. All customers frequenting indoor common areas in any overnight accommodations will also be required to wear a face covering.
Face coverings can include, but are not limited to, bandanas, medical masks, cloth masks, scarves, and gaiters, provided it securely covers the person’s nose and mouth. While businesses will be responsible for employees wearing face masks, no establishment is allowed to force any customers, visitors or other members of the public to wear coverings.
Members of the Myrtle Beach Police Department will perform compliance checks while the order is in effect. Mayor Brenda Bethune noted the order will be difficult to enforce, but said the purpose of this mandate is to create awareness and achieve voluntary compliance.
“We have to take action and this is the right step,“ Bethune said. “I hate the perception that people have right now, as any city would, and we need to do everything we can to change that.”
Currently, several counties in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky have confirmed to The Sun News about 300 coronavirus cases in residents after trips to Myrtle Beach.
Exemptions to the order include: personal vehicles, when a person is alone in an enclosed space, during outdoor or indoor physical activity in which the active person maintains a minimum of six feet; on a public beach provided there is a six-foot distance from others, and in outdoor or unenclosed retail, food or accommodations areas in which social distancing of at least 6 feet is possible and observed.
The policy will also exempt pedestrians walking with a group of no more than 10 family members or friends who are maintaining the appropriate distance from others, patrons while dining at a restaurant, those whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face mask, in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a mask, in private offices, and while exclusively with members of a family or the same household.
Other exemptions include those who cannot remove a face covering without the assistance of others and first-responders when not engaged in a public safety matter of an emergency nature.
Additionally, the order will exempt children under 10, provided that adults accompanying children age 4-9 use reasonable efforts to cause those children to wear face coverings while inside the enclosed area of any retail or food establishment, according to the mandate.
Those who violate the order will be guilty of a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of not more than $100. Each day the violation continues will be considered a separate offense, according to the order. A business that violates the order could have its business license or occupancy permit suspended or revoked.
According to the order, an establishment that further fails to require employees to wear face coverings will be declared a public nuisance, which may be abated by the city by restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction, or other lawful means.
Myrtle Beach becomes the second Horry County community to enforce a face mask ordinance. On Tuesday, North Myrtle Beach City Council unanimously voted on their own policy that will require residents and visitors to wear face masks when frequenting all retail, service and food establishments.
While Horry County Council has not discussed a mask mandate, Georgetown County officials passed a face mask ordinance Thursday afternoon. Conway plans to discuss an emergency mask ordinance on Monday.
With the rise in cases, dozens of South Carolina cities, including Greenville, Columbia, Hilton Head and Charleston, have chosen to enforce ordinances requiring masks be worn — a step S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has expressed he won’t take, despite expressing dismay with the recent case boom and many in the public dismissing health officials’ recommendations.
As of Thursday, Horry County had 3,727 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths, according to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Since the start of June, more than 3,200 cases have been diagnosed. Prior to the area hosting its first testing event on May 30, Horry County had only recorded 426 coronavirus cases since the first case was reported on March 15.
Overall, South Carolina has 39,587 confirmed coronavirus cases and 777 deaths, according to DHEC, as of Thursday.