Surfside Beach leaders approved a resolution encouraging the use of face masks at different public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19 after the town council chose not to pass a mask policy.
During a special meeting Tuesday, town officials repeatedly brought up concerns about enforcement as they considered implementing a mask mandate.
“I don’t think it’s up to me to decide for someone else,” Councilwoman Cindy Keating said. “I don’t think that’s the role of government.”
Several Horry County municipalities including Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have approved mask mandates amid the county’s surge in coronavirus cases.
The town now strongly recommends employees and management at businesses such as restaurants and bars wear face masks. Customers at those establishments are advised to do the same unless they are eating or drinking.
The vote approving the resolution passed 4-0. Councilmen David Pellegrino, Bruce Dietrich and Michael Drake did not attend the meeting.
Keating said while she is not opposed to wearing a mask — having one in her pocket and keeping a handkerchief to cover her face — she worried about enforceability.
“I think we’ve got more than enough ordinances on our books that our police department cannot enforce. And it causes quite a bit of angst amongst the town members and visitors when we have rules but the rules aren’t enforced. … I think we’re putting our police officers and reputation of our town once again on the firing line for more rules not being enforced.”
She added local municipalities with mask policies have been selective about where the coverings must be worn.
“It’s like saying seatbelts are required in all Fords and Chevys, but the rest are not,” she said. “I think that it’s a little too specialized.”
Councilman Paul Holder said the goal of an ordinance would be to spur mask usage, not issue citations.
Should an officer see someone in the town without a mask, he or she would ask that person to wear one.
“I think we want our vacationers to come here and have a good time and not to get tickets,” he said.
While he understands the severity of the pandemic, Surfside Beach Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann worried a mask ordinance could lead to outrage — either due to a lack of citations being issued or because of tickets being doled out.
With the Surfside Beach Police Department being a small agency, he said it would be a “challenge for us to be able to hop from complaint to complaint.” Those reports could also interfere with other calls.
Highlighting other Grand Strand communities with mask mandates taking an educational approach, he said the town not issuing citations could make it seem like officials weren’t taking any measures to help stem COVID-19’s spread.
“It’s a challenge,” he said.
Mayor Bob Hellyer noted Horry County's rise in new coronavirus cases reported.
“These numbers aren’t going down,” he said. “These numbers are continuing to go up.”
He had mixed feelings about implementing mask rules.
“I am not an advocate about putting restrictions on individuals and constitutional rights and everything else,” he said, “but I am a firm believer in protecting people who do not have the ability to protect themselves.”
Keating said the council also has to consider that increased testing causes higher numbers.
When council members discussed how to let people know about a mask recommendation, Town Administrator Dennis Pieper noted Surfside Beach receives several calls each day asking about the community, including ones from people planning trips.
One idea pitched by Keating is to launch a campaign with flyers advising the use of masks for places like rental properties, businesses and beach accesses.
Councilwoman Debbie Scoles pointed out the town can reexamine a possible face covering ordinance in the future.
“If we go with a proclamation and we see that we’re not benefitting from that, we can come back and get a little bit stronger with an ordinance,” she said.
None of the council members wore masks during the meeting.
The council also voted to extend the town's emergency declaration by 60 days.