Myrtle Beach city leaders, health officials express concerns about virus testing, re-opening beach access

Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Myrtle Beach city leaders and health officials expressed concerns about virus testing and reopening public access to beaches in a meeting Monday.

Myrtle Beach City Council called a virtual emergency meeting Monday morning around 11 a.m. The meeting involved city council members, Mayor Brenda Bethune, Myrtle Beach Emergency Manager Bruce Arnel, Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock, local lawmakers, health officials and others.

Myrtle Beach’s infectious control nurse Debbie Borst expressed concerns with the absence of adequate testing kits in the Grand Strand, saying local first responders can only get tested if they have symptoms.

“It makes it hard to know the cycle of contagion of virus, if we can’t test the public,” Borst said.

Borst said currently, only first responders who show symptoms can be tested, even if they are in quarantine.

“Are our numbers really accurate, okay, because the public hears one thing, but they don’t realize we don’t have testing available like other cities and states,” Borst said. “So, I’m worried that they have a false sense of security concerning our numbers and thinking that things could be on the uptick, we could be over the peak when really, I’m not sure we’ve hit a peak yet.”

Dr. Edward Schwartz, Chief Medical Officer for CareHere which operates the city’s employee clinic, also expressed concerns with testing in the area, saying in reopening, several factors should be taken into consideration, including testing accuracy and the capacity of local hospitals.

“Making sure that the hospitals in those areas do have the infrastructure and the availability if more people get sick to take care of them,” he said. “The biggest fear I have as a physician is the risk of us ending up like Italy, where sometimes people are dying only because there was no more capacity to provide them the intensive care that was needed.”

Rep. Alan Clemmons (R- Horry County District 107) asked Dr. Schwartz if the prediction data from the Institutes for Health Metrics and Evaluation at University of Washington-Seattle, which he said the SC Dept. of Health and Environmental Control relies upon, is reliable.

Dr. Schwartz responded, saying he couldn’t answer with a yes or no because predictions are based on the data you have at the time the prediction is made.

“Unfortunately, I think we don’t know. When we look at the epidemiological modeling, it is exactly that. It’s modeling and it’s really looking at best guess based on the current science, which changes daily,” Dr. Schwartz said.

Dr. Schwartz added that when reopening, businesses should take into consideration what they can do to protect employees, such as having doors open automatically, increasing opportunities for hand sanitization and washing and rearranging work spaces to maximize social distancing.

Sen. Luke Rankin (R- Horry District 33) said that the city’s economy is largely based on travel, leisure entertainment and hospitality and this would need to be taken into consideration, along with the Grand Strand having a large population of senior-aged adults, when considering a time to reopen.

Mayor Bethune expressed concern that the Myrtle Beach area is a place tourists from other virus hot spots may come to after reopening and questioned if this could cause the area to see a second peak this summer.

Myrtle Beach Police Department Chief Amy Prock said she’s been in contact with law enforcement agencies in Florida, where some beaches have reopened, regarding how to go about reopening and enforcing limitations that may remain in place.

Rep. Clemmons addressed his request to Governor McMaster about reopening the beach to public access, clarifying that he only wanted to open the beach to locals and saying reasonable restrictions for visitors should be considered.

Karen Riordan, with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said in the meeting she feels it’s important that the business community along the Grand Strand be on the same page regarding reopening.

Mayor Bethune also added in that considering reopening hotels and resorts, they are working with businesses to develop a plan collaboratively.

Count on News13 for updates.

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