North Myrtle Beach’s city council on Tuesday voted to pass an emergency ordinance mandating that residents wear masks in all retailers, including grocery stores, home improvement stores, pharmacies, and personal services businesses such as hair and nail salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors.
The ordinance, which is the first of its kind in the county, becomes effective noon Thursday and lasts for 60 days. Myrtle Beach is voting on their mask ordinance on Thursday.
The city joins a growing list of other municipalities around the state who have enacted similar ordinances, including Charleston and Hilton Head, after Gov. Henry McMaster declined to enact a state-wide mandate.
The CDC and DHEC both encourage the use of masks in addition to social distancing and avoiding large public gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19. The ZIP code encompassing North Myrtle Beach has hosted more than 200 lab-confirmed cases, and Horry County has seen more than 3,300. DHEC estimates the actual number of cases is likely higher, when accounting for people who have gone undiagnosed.
DHEC says the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that come back positive is evidence of a sicker population, attributing the uptick to lax adherence to social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.
The ordinance was not immediately released for public review before the unanimous council vote in favor of the ordinance, but City Manager Mike Mahaney read some of the applicable sections out loud before the vote. The city released the ordinance after it was passed.
“Wearing a mask, sanitizing your hands and social distancing are the only three things we have at this time to fight COVID-19,” said Mayor Marilyn Hatley on Monday. “And we feel like it’s something we as elected officials should stand up to the plate and do for the health and safety of our community.”
The ordinance mandates that everyone wear a mask upon entering any retail business, or other businesses that provides personal services. Businesses themselves are not required to enforce the ordinance, but must post "conspicuous signage" notifying customers of the ordinance.
The new rules also require employees who interact with the public at restaurants, retailers, government offices and personal service businesses to wear masks.
People who can't wear a mask due to age or health conditions, people who cannot put a mask on and off without assistance, and those who have religious objections are exempt and not required to wear a mask.
Three people in the audience spoke in opposition to the mask mandate, and one person spoke in favor
Councilor Hank Thomas said he was in favor of the ordinance, and said he’d noticed lots of people already wearing masks. And he cited National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendation of the use of masks.
“I’ve got a feeling the man knows what he’s talking about," Thomas said.
Hatley said the ordinance would send a message to visitors that North Myrtle Beach was trying to create a safer atmosphere for them.
“We love our community. We want our community to be healthy.,” Hatley said. “We love our visitors. We want our visitors to feel safe when they come to our community.”
The ordinance will be enforced by the city's public safety department and code enforcement, and violations will be punished by a penalty of up to $25 for citizens who violate the ordinance, and up to a $100 fine for businesses whose employees aren’t wearing masks.
For businesses who don't follow the rules, each day of non-compliance is considered a separate offense, according to the ordinance.
“We’re jeopardizing new shutdowns,” said councilor Bob Cavanaugh. “That’s worth a minor inconvenience to get us out of this situation and keep our town going the way we’ve always planned it.”