North Myrtle Beach City Council on Friday voted against extending their state of emergency declaration and face mask ordinance for another 60 days. Both are scheduled to expire on Sunday.
The mask ordinance had been in effect since late June.
City Manager Mike Mahaney spoke in favor of extending the ordinances, but both votes failed.
"I don’t think that’s what your citizens want," Mahaney said. "You’ve got about 9,000 people that are 55 or older, that feel much more comfortable going into the box stores with face masks, and they want the people to have face masks. That’s the feedback that the city manager’s office is getting."
Mayor Marilyn Hatley and council members Hank Thomas, J.O. Baldwin and Terry White voted against extending the state of emergency and mask ordinance while council members Fred Coyne and Nikki Fontana voted in favor of extending them.
"I appreciate your position, that’s just the way I feel," said Thomas, responding to Mahaney. "The trend in the nation and South Carolina, we’re ready to go back to work. That doesn’t mean there’s not risk and we should all be prudent in following the guidelines. That’s just my opinion."
Fontana said she wanted to extend it one more time due to the St. Patrick's Day and Easter crowds, and the influx of people coming into the city.
"I feel like we need to try to save our summer," Fontana said. "The emails that I’ve received, the majority – and a few phone calls – they still have been encouraging us to extend the face mask ordinance. They don’t feel comfortable with us not having it in place."
Coyne agreed, saying there was a "long way to go" on the virus. "If somewhere along the line, it looks like we’re having less and things are coming down even more, we can always back it up," he added. "But I’d like to see us go forward."
But four council members were in favor of ending the ordinances. White said he and his wife had both had the virus, and neither had experienced heavy adverse effects from it. And Baldwin said it should be up to each business to decide what rules they would have in place.
"Since the governor removed the face mask ordinance in the restaurants, some restaurants have chosen to continue to wear them. I think that is their right to do so. But we haven’t enforced this, it’s not something we really have been able to enforce," he said. "Everybody should continue to be safe and social distance and wear their mask."
Hatley said she could go both ways. But after listening to the discussion, she decided to vote against the extension.
"Look, we’ve got smart business people," Hatley said. "We’ve got competent people who live in this city. They know when they should wear a mask. If they feel uncomfortable going into any store or any situation, they can wear their masks. If we don’t pass it, it doesn’t mean that the retail stores and city hall and all of the grocery stores can’t continue to require people [to] wear masks."
The city announced on March 10 that it would stop enforcing its mask ordinance in restaurants following the governor’s decision to lift his statewide requirement that masks be worn in restaurants.
The city said that continuing to enforce it would put them at odds with state law, but that it still encouraged restaurants to implement their own protocols. Destination North Myrtle Beach is in the process of compiling a list of restaurants who plan do just that.
Destination CEO Cheryl Kilday said the council's decision didn't surprise her, since the city's residents are split on the issue of whether there should be a mask mandate in place.
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The chamber is already compiling a list of restaurants with mask requirements and will also list the rules for each restaurant under the amenities section of the explorenorthmyrtlebeach.com website that the chamber operates.
Since the city's vote Friday, Kilday said the chamber will also start reaching out to other types of businesses in order to list their COVID-19 rules on their amenities sections on the website.
"We have to help everybody understand what to expect when they go into a business," Kilday said.
As of Thursday, Horry County had hosted almost 28,000 cases of COVID-19 (with more than 2,100 in the ZIP code that contains North Myrtle Beach) and 432 confirmed deaths, according to DHEC.
The health agency’s data shows that more than 96,000 South Carolina residents in Horry County have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with almost 7,000 of them living in North Myrtle Beach’s ZIP code.