Myrtle Beach became the second coastal community in Horry County this week to approve a mandate that directs people in the city to wear face masks in certain settings.
Individuals must wear face masks inside retail and food service establishments as well as common areas at overnight accommodation businesses. Staff members at those businesses must wear face coverings while working in areas open to the general public and places where interactions with other staff are likely in which social distancing of at least six feet can’t be observed.
“The whole goal behind this is we need to do something that we haven’t been doing,” city councilman Mike Lowder said. “What we’re trying to do here is move in a positive direction to try to improve the health of our citizens and our visitors.”
During a special meeting Thursday, the city council voted to direct the city manager to issue an executive order that institutes those rules, which go into effect at 11:59 p.m.
Any person who violates the rules, either by not wearing a face covering when required to or by failing to require an employee to wear a face mask in accordance with the rules, is guilty of a civil infraction, which is punishable by a penalty of no more than $100. Each day of non-compliance shall be considered a separate offense, according to the executive order.
Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock said the city’s fire marshal, code inspectors and a police nuisance abatement officer will continue conducting compliance checks to make sure rules are being followed.
Business owners who fail to require employees to wear a face covering could lose their business license or occupancy permits. Multiple violations could result in a business being declared a public nuisance and subject to abatement by the city via a restraining order or preliminary or permanent injunction.
In those cases, the city will work to bring any violating establishments into voluntary compliance with the executive order prior to any enforcement action.
Business operators have a duty to enforce the provisions of the order only against employees of the establishment, according to the order. They do not have a duty to require customers, visitors or other members of the general public to wear the coverings.
Face coverings include but are not limited to bandanas, medical masks, cloth masks, scarves and gaiters. They are required to cover a person’s nose and mouth.
Retail establishments include but are not limited to grocery stores; convenience stores; sporting goods stores; beachwear shops; stores that sell furniture and home-furnishings; clothing, shoe and clothing-accessory stores; jewelry, luggage and leather goods stores; department stores; hardware and home improvement stores; book, craft and music stores; flower shops and ticketed admissions or amusements.
Additionally, the executive order applies to businesses such as pharmacies; liquor stores; laundromats; barbershops and hair salons; gyms; banks; real estate offices; accounting offices and law offices.
Accommodations businesses include hotels, motels, condotels and rental properties inclusive of Airbnb, VRBO-style lodging and campgrounds.
People in their personal vehicles are not required to wear the face masks, and the rules also don’t apply to pedestrians or those on the public beach if social distancing of at least six feet is observed between groups of family members or friends. In the order, city officials defined a pedestrian as a person actively engaged in moving from one destination to another without the use of a motorized vehicle. No group should exceed 10 people.
The rules also don’t apply when a person is alone in an enclosed space or during outdoor or indoor physical activity when the active person maintains at least six feet from other people at all times.
In addition, people whose religious beliefs prevent them from wearing a face covering are exempt from the rules, and the regulations also don’t apply to people who can’t wear a face covering because of a medical or behavioral condition.
The executive order does not apply to people in outdoor or unenclosed areas of accommodations businesses or food service or accommodations businesses in which social distancing of at least six feet is possible and observed.
When not practical or engaged in public safety matters, first responders are exempt, as are people who can’t remove the coverings without assistance.
Children under 10 years old are exempt, but adults accompanying children ages 4-9 years old must make efforts to get those children to wear face coverings while inside enclosed areas of retailers or eateries.
People in the process of dining at restaurants, those who are in private, individual offices, individuals following rules from police and people and in settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering, such as receiving dental services or while swimming, are also exempt.
Finally, the executive order also doesn’t apply to people exclusively with members of a family or the same household, and no person other than such family or household is in the same enclosed area.
The rules will remain in effect for 67 days, or until Labor Day (Sept. 7), unless the executive order is rescinded or the city’s civil emergency declaration expires, whichever comes first.
North Myrtle Beach officials approved their own ordinance requiring face masks to be worn in different situations on Tuesday.
Myrtle Beach also joins a growing list of other municipalities outside of the Grand Strand that have enacted similar rules, including Charleston, Greenville, Columbia and Hilton Head, after Gov. Henry McMaster declined to enact a statewide mandate.
McMaster said at a press conference Wednesday that he supported state municipalities approving face covering rules.
Myrtle Beach officials said they heard from community members and others who had inquired about a mask mandate in the city.
“I think this is a good thing,” said city councilman Mike Chestnut.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control both encourage the use of face masks in addition to social distancing. They also recommend avoiding large public gatherings and embracing frequent hand washing to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Myrtle Beach’s vote comes following a surge of coronavirus cases both statewide and in Horry County and shortly before the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
As of Wednesday, South Carolina’s total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is 37,809, with 759 confirmed deaths connected to the disease.
Horry County has 3,547 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday. Forty-seven of those patients died.
Before the vote, Myrtle Beach resident Scott Eagle said he disagreed with the city choosing to implement mask rules.
“This does not make sense to make it an ordinance to have to wear it,” he said. “Is it about safety or is it about revenue?”
Joe McVay spoke in favor of the order, saying “masks work.”
“They don’t cure anything,” he added, “but they daggum sure help.”