By Paul Gable
Horry County Council Tuesday night voted against passing a new emergency ordinance that would have included and extended requiring the wearing of face masks in public settings or another sixty days.
As a result of the county vote, face mask requirements in the unincorporated areas of the county will halt at midnight October 30, 2020 (the time the current emergency ordinance ends).
At the extreme opposite end of the emergency spectrum, North Myrtle Beach city council voted to extend the requirement to wear face masks in public settings “until the Covid emergency ends,” whenever that may be.
Both councils voted unanimously, North Myrtle Beach to extend the requirements, the county to not pass a new emergency ordinance. However, it appeared there was confusion among county council members who wanted a new emergency ordinance enacted. Immediately after the 12-0 vote, council member Harold Worley made several attempts to have a new mask ordinance voted on. Ultimately, council voted 8-4 to not reconsider the vote on whether to pass a new emergency ordinance with Worley, Gary Loftus, Bill Howard and Dennis DiSabato (those whose districts include Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and the county areas adjacent) voting for reconsideration.
Somewhere in the middle lies Myrtle Beach at this time. The Myrtle Beach emergency ordinance and face mask requirement currently ends October 30, 2020. However, the last time the ordinance was extended, it was done so with a declaration by Mayor Brenda Bethune and City Administrator John Pederson, not a vote of council. There is no reason to believe these two will not extend the requirements beyond the present October 30 date.
The face mask vs no face mask issue has been framed as one between individual liberty and government interference in what should be personal decisions.
What hasn’t been discussed in the local debate is that no real enforcement of face mask requirements has been made by any public safety entity in the county. Indeed, each of the local governments has admitted they do not have the resources to enforce face mask provisions.
These admissions bring up the question, why pass an ordinance that nobody enforces?
It is better to take the county approach of encouraging the wearing of face masks but not requiring it. The decision should be left up to the individual.
What also hasn’t been discussed is the number of citizens, both local and visitors, who have contracted Covid, recovered and have acquired immunity to the virus. Why should they be subjected to some arbitrary requirement that no one is going to enforce anyway?
Of course, ticketing or arresting citizens for not wearing face masks would be the worst action local governments could take. Such a move would be worse than when Myrtle Beach passed an ordinance requiring the wearing of helmets by those on motorcycles and took a sound beating in court.
Are the continuing face mask requirements in the cities just a façade to calm the fears of tourists questioning whether to come to the area? Kind of a ‘Come on down, we require the wearing of face masks, it’s safe.’
How much influence does the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce have in the decisions of the cities to require masks? It should have none!
There is a limit to how much government should infringe on the rights of citizens to make personal decisions. The county apparently reached that limit while city governments have not.