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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's city council on Monday voted to extend its mask ordinance another 60 days, citing the benefits of face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

North Myrtle was the first city in Horry County to pass a mask mandate ordinance when council voted for it on June 30. The rules were set to expire on Tuesday. 

"Wearing a mask has certainly helped," said Mayor Marilyn Hatley. "I've noticed our numbers have gone down considerably. We do know that wearing masks work, so I think it's the right thing to extend this emergency ordinance."

The law mandates that everyone wear a mask or face covering when entering any retail business, or personal services business like a nail salon, hair salon or tattoo parlor. Businesses are not required to enforce the ordinance (the police and code enforcement take care of that) but they must post "conspicuous signage" notifying customers of the law. 

The ordinance requires masks for employees who interact with the public at restaurants, retailers, government offices and personal service businesses.  

People who can't wear face coverings due to age or health conditions, people who can't put a mask on or take it off without assistance, and those who have religious objections are exempt from the rules.

Violations are punishable by a penalty of up to $25 for citizens who break the law, and up to a $100 fine for businesses who aren't following the rules. For businesses who break the rules, each day of non-compliance is considered a separate offense, according to the ordinance. 

Last week, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control released data showing that masks are effective at slowing the spread of the virus, while warning that neck gaiters are the least effective form of protection. About 40 percent of South Carolinians, about 2 million, live in jurisdictions that have local mask requirements in place, DHEC said.

Among the data released by the state health agency last week:

• Jurisdictions with mask requirements have shown a 44.2 percent greater decrease in the total number of cases about a month after after the requirements were implemented when compared to the jurisdiction without mask requirements.

• Jurisdictions without mask requirements have experienced an overall increase in total cases of 1.2 percent when compared to jurisdictions with a mask requirement in place.

The city's extended ordinance will expire in 61 days unless council repeals it first. 

In addition to masks, health experts say social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and practicing good hygiene are effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

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