Horry County upholds mask requirement

Grand Strand

CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – Horry County will keep its mask requirement in place due to the coronavirus pandemic until the end of October.

Horry County Council voted 7-5 on Tuesday night to keep the face covering rule. The ordinance requires anyone entering a retail business, including grocery stores, pharmacies, and personal service businesses to wear a mask while inside the establishment. An exception is made if the mask interferes with getting a service such as a haircut, in which case the mask can be removed during that time.

Some council members say the county should not require masks.

“I don’t want you to protect me,” said Johnny Vaught, a council member representing the Forestbrook community. “That’s my job.”

Gary Loftus, who’s a council member representing parts of Myrtle Beach and some South Strand communities, voted in favor of keeping the mask rule.

“I don’t live in fear of the virus,” said Loftus. “I just want to be part of the solution, not the problem.”

The council members who wanted to end the county’s mask ordinance were upset they couldn’t make their case two weeks ago, when the rule was originally extended for 60 days. They got that chance at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Those opposed say the county shouldn’t be forcing people to wear masks and they disagree with scientific evidence of masks preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Don’t force your beliefs upon me because I choose not to, because I choose my faith,” said Al Allen, a council member representing Aynor.

“That’s my decision as to whether or not to protect myself,” said Vaught. “I’ve had people say, ‘Well, you’re talking about seat belts here. You make everybody wear seat belts.’ I disagree with a seat belt law.”

Along with Vaught, Allen, Paul Prince and Danny Hardee, council chair Johnny Gardner also voted to end the mask requirement.

“I’m going to wear my mask and I encourage everybody else to wear their masks, but I’m going to vote to terminate this thing tonight,” Gardner said.

COVID-19 cases have dropped dramatically in Horry County since the mask rule went into effect on July 3. In August, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said communities with mask requirements have seen coronavirus cases almost cut in half (44.2%) since the rules were implemented.

DHEC data also shows daily cases have dropped about 82.8% in Horry County since the ordinance was implemented. There were 269 cases reported in the county to DHEC in the last week (Sept. 8-14), which is an average of 38.4 cases per day. In the week before the county adopted the mask rule (June 27-July 3), there were 1,562 cases, which is an average of 223.1 cases per day.

Dennis DiSabato, a council member representing parts of Myrtle Beach and Carolina Forest, says the county can adopt a mask ordinance.

“I’m a little fed up with the idea that we are being somehow unconstitutional by asking people to do something that makes common sense and that data has shown has been working,” DiSabato said.

Bill Howard, a council member also representing parts of Carolina Forest, says he understands the importance of wearing masks, even if he doesn’t enjoy them.

“I hate it, but I know it’s making a difference,” said Howard. “I know it’s saving maybe one life because I wear a mask. Maybe I don’t pick up the virus and spread the virus.”

The county’s mask requirement remains in effect through Oct. 30 unless council decides to end it sooner.

Read the preview of Tuesday night’s meeting below:

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County Council will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. to discussing ending the mask ordinance after it was extended last week.

The mandate was originally issued in July to help curve the spread of COVID-19, but some council members don’t believe what state and national health departments are saying about mask effectiveness.

Councilman Al Allen said the ordinance is an act of “tyranny” and masks shouldn’t be required.

“It should be a personal choice to where if a person chooses to wear one or not because it is a government overreach and it is challenging our constitutional freedom,” Allen explained.

Allen also told News13, the council’s decision on the ordinance extension took place without a discussion. He said that decision didn’t provide transparency to county citizens. However, public input is suspended from Tuesday’s meeting.

Vice Chairman Paul Prince agrees with ending the mask ordinance after admitting to not wearing a mask out in public. Prince said he only wears a mask when volunteering for Horry County Fire Rescue, but it makes him uncomfortable.

“Thank the Lord I am healthy and I don’t need to wear a mask to keep from – to me, it will be unhealthy for me to wear one. Put it that way,” Prince explained. He’s worried people will fall sick from wearing a mask from breathing in their own breath.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environment Control reported communities with mask requirements have seen a 44.2% decrease in the number of coronavirus cases compared to communities without it.

Although coronavirus cases are declining in Horry County, Prince disputes studies which have proven masks help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“And they say it’s protecting you. I just don’t have any evidence or any proof other than what people are talking about,” Prince explained. “That’s one of the things wrong with America today, people not being responsible for their ownselves and their surroundings and doing the right thing,” he said.

Both Prince and Allen along with other council members will voice their thoughts on the mask mandate at council chambers.

The mask ordinance extension was passed in a 8-4 vote.


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