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Denise Branch, a registered nurse with United Healthcare, is in favor of mask mandate the North Myrtle Beach City Council is considering. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

North Myrtle Beach city council will vote on a mandatory mask ordinance Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. 

If it passes the city will join other municipalities around South Carolina who have also passed their own mandatory mask ordinances.  

Officials didn’t elaborate on the details of the ordinance, such as which stores it would apply to or how it would be enforced, but said it would be an emergency ordinance requiring only one vote. 

As of Monday night, the city was still developing the final wording of the ordinance, which will be available during the meeting, according to a city news release.

Last week, Mayor Marilyn Hatley said the city was thinking about an ordinance that applied just to grocery stores and pharmacies. Councilors J.O. Baldwin, Hank Thomas, Bob Cavanaugh and Hatley expressed support for it. 

Councilor Nikki Fontana was still weighing her decision, but said she was leaning towards supporting the ordinance, as was councilor Fred Coyne. 

And councilors Thomas and Cavanaugh both said they’d like the ordinance to apply to all retailers, not just grocery stores and pharmacies.

“I think the science is there. The evidence is there,” said Denise Branch, a registered nurse who moved to North Myrtle Beach three months ago. “I believe in that, being a nurse for 40 years, I’ve worked in the operating room for many years, so I wore a mask all day long. So wearing a mask is not a big deal to me, but I see the importance of wearing it in public to help maintain protection to my fellow man and my fellow human beings.” 

Mulling over some Ice Cream from Melt on North Myrtle’s Main Street on Friday, Branch said she hated that an ordinance would have to be enacted to get people to wear masks, but said she was in favor of it. 

“I know that there are people that don’t quite understand and feel like it’s violating their rights, and I don’t know why that had to be brought into it,” she said. “It’s all about protecting each other. I think as United States citizens, we usually grab each other and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do for each other,’ and I think that’s what need to do, is wear a mask to protect each other.” 

Gov. Henry McMaster has declined to enact a statewide mask mandate, saying it would be unenforceable, but the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office cleared the way for cities to come up with their own ordinances.

The CDC, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and other public health experts have advocated wearing masks in public regardless of symptoms. Some studies and lab experiments have shown masks are effective at slowing the down the growth rate of new COVID-19 cases, and reducing the spread of viral droplets from the mouth. 

“It’s so darn sneaky,” said Coyne, who’s leaning towards supporting a mask mandate ordinance. “I think we’re much better to err on the side of caution. Whatever we do, we’ve got to make sure it’s practical too.”

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Paul Jamar is not in favor of a mandatory mask requirement, because of rights, the Loris resident said while sitting in the shade on North Myrtle Beach’s Main Street on Friday. He said wearing a mask should be an individual responsibility. The North Myrtle Beach City Council is considering requiring the use of masks in the city. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The CDC estimates that 40 percent of COVID-19 transmission occurs before symptoms appear, meaning people who feel fine can still unknowingly spread the virus to at-risk populations like the elderly. Some younger people never show symptoms at all, but are still contagious. 

According to DHEC data, people 61 and older make up just 20 percent of COVID-19 cases, but more than 86 percent of COVID-19 deaths. 

According to a U.S. Census estimate, 35.5 percent of North Myrtle Beach residents are 65 and older. 

Branch said masks should be worn “any place where you cannot maintain adequate social distancing. And wearing a mask in addition to the social distancing is going to be even more safe.” 

Linda Guild, who moved to Little River from San Diego California in December, was also in favor of a mandatory mask ordinance.

She said wearing masks is the right thing to do to protect others. 

“Look what New York did by following the rules,” Guild said. They had horrendous numbers and now they’re so much better. Those people have worked really hard. It takes a collaborative effort. You can’t have half the population going ‘It’s a big hoax, it’s stupid, you’ll just get sick and it’ll go away.’ It’s like ‘Yea, and maybe you’ll die.’” 

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Lauren Forrest, holding Bailey, works for Horry County Fire Rescue and lives in North Myrtle. "I have no problem. If they make it happen, they make it happen. But I don’t think they should,” she said of the North Myrtle Beach City Council proposed mask requirements. “I’m not going to say no to it, because it’s crazy what’s going on.” Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Lauren Forrest, who lives in North Myrtle Beach, said she didn’t think the city should force people to wear masks, but didn’t have a problem if an ordinance was passed. 

“I’m not going to say no to it, because it’s crazy what’s going on,” Forrest said, adding that she thought only people who are showing symptoms should wear masks.

“I’ve got no problem. If they make it happen, they make it happen,” she said. “But I don’t think they should, because if you’re not sneezing, you’re not coughing, you’re not doing anything, you shouldn’t have to wear one. If you are, you’re the ones who should wear one. That’s my opinion.” 

Scott Wilson was in North Myrtle Beach this week for a family reunion, vacationing from Brick, New Jersey, where a mask mandate is in place. 

New Jersey is also one of several states that require visitors from South Carolina to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. 

He said a lot of businesses in Brick have closed permanently after being forced to shut down in the early days of the pandemic. 

“Do I think a mandatory is necessary? I think it would be a good option unless they’re going to start forcing people to stay home more,” Wilson said. “So, I think there’s a tradeoff. Either make it mandatory for masks, or they’re gonna have to start closing things down again, and I don’t think people want things closed down again. So I believe that the masks would be a necessary evil at that point.” 

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Linda Guild (right) of Little River eats lunch outside away from others on Main Street in North Myrtle Beach on Friday. Marking her first six months as an Horry County resident, Guild said she’s in favor of a proposed mask mandate by the North Myrtle Beach City Council. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Paul Jamar, who lives in Loris but said he frequently visits North Myrtle Beach, was opposed to a mask mandate, blaming the spike of COVID-19 cases on increased testing. 

“I don’t necessarily think that social distancing is a bad idea or that masks are a bad idea, but I think it should be left up to the individual, in hopes that individuals are being responsible,” he said. “Obviously, some people aren’t. I just don’t think it’s the pandemic that they’re running it up to be.” 

While it’s true that DHEC is testing more often, increasing its testing goals from 110,000 people per month up to 140,000 per month for June, July and August, and 165,000 people per month for the rest of the year, the spike in cases also coincides with a sicker population. 

The percentage of tests that have come back positive has been trending up, as well as hospitalizations. 

On Monday morning, 1,032 of the 7,336 occupied hospital beds around the state held patients who have tested positive or are under investigation for COVID-19. 

DHEC reported that the 29582 ZIP code, which includes North Myrtle Beach, had 202 confirmed cases. But DHEC believes that for every diagnosed case, there could be 9 others that haven’t been identified. The agency says there could actually be more than 1,400 cases in the North Myrtle ZIP code. 

Horry County has played host to 3,150 lab-confirmed cases, with 44 deaths.

“There’s always two sides, and sometimes three of four sides to the discussion,” Coyne said. “We have a lot of people, they don’t have a choice but to go to the grocery store or go to the pharmacy. 

“We’ll have to see how some of this other stuff weighs out. At the end of the day, it’s about me protecting you and you protecting me.” 

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