People walk into the Myrtle Beach International Airport as Allegiant announces a new route to Kansas City, Mo. Photo by Janet Morgan/Myrtle Beach Herald

Update: On Friday, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered all passengers from COVID-19 hotspots to self-quarantine for 14 days. People who don't comply risk a large fine or jail time. Read more by clicking here. The story below was published Thursday night.

Myrtle Beach International Airport on Wednesday began screening passengers for COVID-19 from hotspots like New York, but no one is tracking the passengers.

Horry County Public Information Officer Kelly Moore said in an email that there were eight flights from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport in the week between March 18 – the day Gov. Henry McMaster ordered all bars and restaurants closed to dine-in customers – and Wednesday. New York City has reported more than 20,000 cases of COVID-19 and almost 300 deaths as of Wednesday.

“Number of arriving passengers on these eight flights is not readily available,” Moore said in the email, responding a request for data from March 18 through Wednesday.

But the number of passengers from at least Wednesday night is available. 

An email from Horry County Director of Airports Scott Van Moppes to Horry County Administrator Steve Gosnell said that 48 passengers from New York City flew into Myrtle Beach Wednesday night. 

“We continued our screening process, and included all crew members,” Van Moppes said in his email to Gosnell. “Attitudes were positive, and nobody had a fever.” 

The airport is screening passengers for fever, but people – especially young people – can still carry and spread the virus without showing symptoms. 

Moore said any decision to restrict out-of-state travel to the airport is within the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said State Senator Luke Rankin is working with the airport and airlines to try and restrict travel from COVID-19 hotspots. 

"We need to stop people from coming here, and that’s what it comes down to," Bethune said. "We need to put public safety first, public health first, and that includes stopping people from coming here."

Rankin said he had a conference call Wednesday night involving Van Moppes, Gov. Henry McMaster's office, South Carolina Aeronautics Commission Executive Director James Stephens and, via text, U.S. Congressman Tom Rice.

"I listened to the governor’s press conference and was hoping to hear something a little different there," Rankin said Thursday evening.

Rankin would like to see travelers from COVID-19 hotspots such as New York register with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control upon arrival, and undergo a mandatory quarantine so that if they begin showing symptoms of the virus, they can be contained.

McMaster tweeted Wednesday that he was requesting that all visitors in South Carolina who were staying more than two nights to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, but the tweet was not an executive order and not enforceable. 

"Kudos to the governor for requesting this but there’s no way to enforce it, there’s not a way to track these folks," Rankin said.

On Thursday, both Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Horry County passed ordinances banning short-term rentals, including hotels, motels, campgrounds and others, through the month of April.

The state senator said that an enforceable executive order from the governor would prevent the situation of having a patchwork of different municipal responses to the influx of tourist from COVID-19 hotspots. Surfside, for example, has yet to pass any such ordinance. And Myrtle Beach's ordinance also closes down most amusements designed to attract tourists, while North Myrtle's ordinance focused only on short-term rentals.

But Rankin said he was optimistic that McMaster would eventually get on board.

"But you know, unfortunately, it didn’t happen today," Rankin said. "And so there are a lot of folks here who are very concerned that we are unnecessarily exposing ourselves to folks that may present healthy, but their exposure is far more likely in the New York area than we have here.”

Horry County on Thursday had 21 cases of COVID-19, including one death, an elderly person with no underlying health issues. Statewide, there were 456 cases and nine deaths. DHEC expects South Carolina to have a cumulative case total of more than 8,000 by May.

COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December, but China didn’t confirm its existence until January. The virus reached America in late January. The disease mainly targets the respiratory system, and while the virus can still hospitalize young people, older people with weaker immune systems are more susceptible and have a higher mortality rate.

The virus has an average incubation period of five days. Some cases can last for several weeks. That means younger healthy people without severe symptoms can still transfer the virus to more susceptible populations who might require a hospital stay to survive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people should practice social distancing, avoid public gatherings, restrict their travel, frequently wash their hands, avoid touching their face and frequently clean high-use and personal items to slow the spread of the disease. 


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