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North Myrtle Beach city leaders are debating requiring masks be used in designated areas and stores. Here a mask is on a mannequin on Main Street on Friday. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Horry County Council may encourage people to wear masks in retail businesses, but the council will not require them to do so.

County leaders on Tuesday voted 11-1 to instruct the county administrator to prepare a resolution for the council to consider at their next meeting that encourages the public to wear masks, specifically in retail businesses. However, the resolution stops far short of mandating masks or penalizing people for not wearing them in businesses. The council adopted a mask mandate from July 3 through Oct. 30 to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We should strongly encourage masks in the retail centers throughout the unincorporated areas,” Horry County Councilman Cam Crawford said. “This is the best way to go about doing it as opposed to a mandate. … A strong recommendation will help facilitate public health.”

The vote followed a council debate about whether to resurrect a mask mandate, which some council members supported.

“I can’t for the life of me see why we wouldn’t want to protect other people,” Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus said. “It just baffles me. … We’re making a political thing out of something that should not be political.”

A mask mandate would have required a two-thirds majority of council to pass. The council has not had that level of support in weeks. Some council members have opposed a mandate throughout the last four months.

Councilman Johnny Vaught said he’s not against people wearing masks, but he’s opposed to requiring them to do so.

“I am not anti-mask,” he said. “I am anti-mandate.”

Councilman Al Allen went further, casting the lone vote against even encouraging masks.

“Why not just leave it to the people to make the best decision for themselves?” he asked.

Under the county's former policy, people entering businesses were required to wear face coverings while inside those establishments. Masks were allowed to be removed to receive certain services, such as a haircut, or for someone to eat a meal at a restaurant.

Restaurants and retail stores were also required to make their employees wear masks, and the ordinance applied to personal care providers such as nail salons, tattoo parlors and barber shops.

Violating the policy was a civil infraction punishable by a $25 fine for the first offense, $50 for a second offense and $100 for all subsequent violations. The ordinance stated that each day of not wearing a mask was considered a separate offense.

Along the Grand Strand, multiple cities have enacted mask mandates, including Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Conway.

Horry County Councilman Harold Worley said he would like the council to ask Gov. Henry McMaster to issue a statewide mask mandate, but the council did not vote on that request Tuesday.

County council's next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 8.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

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