Horry County officials will reopen some government facilities next week as they begin relaxing the restrictions they implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
That process begins Monday, but it will not initially include recreation centers, the museum and the L.W. Paul Living History Farm. County officials initially planned to keep libraries closed on Monday, but they changed their mind. County staff would also limit occupancy in buildings and visitors would be required to wear a face covering. County employees would also be required to wear face coverings when interacting with the public.
Earlier Wednesday, county council members approved an emergency ordinance that provides county administrator Steve Gosnell with the authority to waive fees for online transactions, limit public access to buildings and implement safety policies as county government reopens. They opted not to extend the state of emergency declaration — which ended at noon Wednesday — because most council members feared that would create a negative perception. Although cities throughout the Grand Strand extended their emergency declarations this week, county leaders voted 10-2 in favor of an ordinance that had similar benefits but a different name.
“As opposed to highlighting emergencies … it highlights and emphasizes the economic recovery,” Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said. “It restores our business community and tourism industry. … We’ve made some good progress in Horry County and this will help with the recovery.”
One key difference between the ordinance county council approved Wednesday and the state of emergency is that under the new policy the county cannot relax its procurement regulations to purchase critical items such as personal protective equipment (PPE). That’s possible under a state of emergency declaration.
The county has also developed a 42-page pandemic operations plan that outlines the levels of response from the most restrictive (Level 1) to normal (Level 4).
“They’ve been working on it for weeks,” Gardner said. “It was something you couldn’t really start on Day 1 because nobody really knew [what to expect]. Not even the state or the federal government knew what was happening. It was a moving target.”
The only council members to object to the latest pandemic-related ordinance were Johnny Vaught and Al Allen.
“Again, we’re having an emergency ordinance,” Vaught said. “And I don’t consider that we’re in a state of emergency.”
Both Vaught and Allen also said they had not seen the operations plan and were upset that the public could learn about its contents before council members could.
County staff have touted their response to the virus. In a recent email to some county staff, county administrator Steve Gosnell wrote that the county staff have seen just one employee and one volunteer test positive for the new coronavirus. The county has more than 2,400 workers.
“For an organization our size, this data indicates that the precautions we are taking are working,” he wrote.