CONWAY — Horry County will not have a mask mandate and will no longer be under a state of emergency come Halloween.
A majority of Horry County Council voted 8 to 4 to end the mask mandate and state of emergency. Those who voted against the ordinance included council members Tyler Servant, Al Allen, Danny Hardee, Paul Prince, Johnny Vaught, Orton Bellamy, Cam Crawford and Chairman Johnny Gardner.
To be clear, in the unincorporated parts of Horry County masks are no longer required, but the public is suggested to wear them.
To keep the mask mandate, state law required a supermajority to pass. As of yesterday, it was clear the council members who supported the mask ordinance wouldn’t have the votes.
So now, if nothing else changes, the mask ordinance for unincorporated Horry County will expire on Oct. 30 of this month.
Masks will still be required in Myrtle Beach city limits and other municipal limits, and individual businesses can still require customers wear a mask before entering. North Myrtle Beach renewed its mask ordinance on Monday night.
The council could meet again to attempt to have another vote on an emergency ordinance and mask mandate. The current regulations do not expire for more than a week, and a special meeting could be called.
Council originally voted against the mask ordinance as a few council members in support of the mask ordinance seemed to re-strategize during a mid-meeting break. When the break was over, the council reconsidered the vote and that’s where the final tally of 8 to 4 comes from.
The arguments remained similar to previous debates of the mandate.
One side argued that the masks are clearly saving lives and keeping cases down, while the others questioned the enforceability of such an ordinance.
The debate itself was mostly over procedure. Council member Harold Worley, who voted to keep the mask mandate ordinance, addressed his constituents directly saying he wants everyone to wear a mask.
“Damn politics when it comes to life and death,” Worley said. “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”
Vaught, who voted against the ordinance, said that to him it doesn’t seem Horry County is still under a state of emergency. He believes the county will be fine moving forward without the mandate or state of emergency.
Chairman Gardner added that he will continue to wear his mask, as should the public, but the council ultimately decided a mandate wouldn’t be needed. He reminded the public that the pandemic isn’t over and continues to be a threat.
“The county council decided enough is enough,“ Gardner said. “We don’t want the mandate.”
At this moment Gardner, who has the power to call a special meeting to reconsider the mandate, said he has no plans to reconvene the council ahead of the end of the month.
Area hospital leaders also indicated to council that masks are helping save lives and keep medical centers from overflowing. A joint statement from healthcare leaders in Horry County can be found online on CMC’s website.
Since the mask mandate went into effect in early July, Horry County saw a drastic decrease in the daily average new case count. But as of late a “third wave” has emerged, with case totals on the rise.
Conway Medical Center CEO Bret Barr said in an email forwarded to council members that masks are still needed and the worsening COVID situation could create a strain on hospitals.
“That’s 110 cases today compared to 75 just nine days ago. Obviously, heading in the wrong direction and will soon become a skilled labor shortage issue if things don’t reverse,” Barr wrote on Monday.
Horry County Assistant Administrator Randy Webster said ending the state of emergency won’t have a financial impact on the county. Still it will limit the speed county staff can meet potential extraordinary needs without council approval.
Webster said he is worried about a supply shortage and hospitals getting overrun. He said the pandemic is still a crisis, just one that is slowly unfolding unlike a hurricane when a state of emergency would normally last a few days.
“There may be various things that‘ll require us to make decisions quickly,” Webster said. “We are being impacted each day from our public safety officers, first responders and hospitals.“