By Ruben Lowman
Horry County Council voted to extend the face mask mandate they have in place for another two months on Tuesday, Sept. 15, after a few weeks of contentious debate among the council members and citizens.
The resolution, voted down by the county council, would have
put an end to the emergency facial covering ordinance that was passed at the beginning of July in anticipation of a heavy influx of tourists coming to visit the area over the Fourth of July weekend.
The original emergency ordinance was set for 60 days and was extended further earlier this month when it was presented to the council members as part of the consent agenda, which permits the council to vote for every item on the agenda at the same time without any floor debate preceding the vote.
Councilman Al Allen of District 11, which encompasses much of Aynor and western Horry County, expressed the notion that attempting to move forward with the ordinance without first bringing it up for open discussion is akin with an oppressive and totalitarian government.
“It is terrible and it is tyranny to try to slide something like this over the people of Horry County by putting it in a consent agenda,” Allen said at the meeting earlier in the month.
Councilman Paul Prince of Loris noted he was in support of the other members of council who had voiced their opposition to the ordinance. His argument centered around the idea that the mandate would largely be unenforceable, given the size and population of
Horry County, and would follow the example of other rules that have been difficult to get people to adhere to.
“Basically Councilman Al [Allen] and Councilman [Johnny] Vaught said most everything that I would probably try to say too so I’m just going to cut mine short,” Paul said.
“Why would you want to pass an ordinance that you are not going to be able to enforce and more than likely you are not going to enforce it at all anyway. Just like we’ve got many, many other ordinances on the books that never get enforced.”
Councilman Dennis DiSabato of District 3 in Myrtle Beach and Carolina Forest made an impassioned case for the logic behind asking the public to wear a face mask when they are in enclosed spaces and around other people.
“We are simply asking people when they leave to go shopping, and when they leave to go to a restaurant, wear a face mask. The government requires us to do common sense things every day,” DiSabato said.
“We’re required to put clothes on before we leave the house,” he continued. “We’re required to wear a seat belt. We’re prohibited from drinking and driving. So 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 the data has shown has been working.”
Before proceeding to the vote, chairman Johnny Gardner took the opportunity to commend everyone, both members of council and the public, who had contacted him voicing their opinions, for the open discussion that took place.
“This has been a good debate. Everybody has worked hard to present their issues,” Gardner said. “We’ve heard excellent, excellent arguments on both sides. And everybody who has emailed me or called me or texted me, no matter what side they’re on, they are passionate and they are one hundred percent sure in their mind that they are correct.”
“No matter what we do, we’re going to upset some people. But we can’t live in the middle of the road, we have to pick a side, which side we think is best,” the chairman said directly before the vote began.
Gardner, Prince and Allen were three of the five council members who voted unsuccessfully to end the mask mandate. Councilmen Johnny Vaught and Danny Hardee were the other two.
Councilmen Harold Worley, Bill Howard, Gary Loftus, DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Orton Bellamy and Tyler Servant were the seven who voted against repealing the ordinance.
The newly extended mandate will remain in effect throughout all parts of unincorporated Horry County, including Little River and Longs, for 60 days.