Myrtle Beach mayor nixes shutdown as tourist COVID cases increase

As more communities say they have coronavirus cases tied to Grand Strand trips, Myrtle Beach’s mayor called the reports “disheartening” and rejected calls for closing tourist activities.

I think it’s very unfair,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said.

Counties in Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky have publicly announced or confirmed to The Sun News outbreaks after recent travel to Myrtle Beach. While timelines for those outbreaks line to trips to South Carolina, some on Facebook have questioned whether the people were infected during their Myrtle Beach visit or if they picked it up somewhere else.

Coronavirus cases were under control in Horry County until the area started to open and welcome visitors, Bethune said. Since then, there has been a dramatic uptick in cases, one which the mayor saw coming.

“I expected it to happen,” Bethune said, acknowledging for the first time the inevitable increase.

A woman wearing a facemask tosses a cigarette along Ocean Boulevard Wednesday afternoon in Myrtle Beach amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
A woman wearing a facemask tosses a cigarette along Ocean Boulevard Wednesday afternoon in Myrtle Beach amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Horry County has 2,801 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday afternoon. More than 2,300 cases have been confirmed since June 1, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. There have been 44 COVID-19-related deaths in the Myrtle Beach area.

Saturday marked the first time Horry County saw more than 200 new cases in a given day.

Tracing back to Myrtle Beach

Over the past 10 days, several states have confirmed outbreaks among people who recently visited the Grand Strand. The areas include:

  • In West Virginia, at least 11 counties reported cases tied back to trips. West Virginia Health officials confirmed cases in Berkeley, Cabell, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Mercer, Putnam, Preston, Raleigh, Ritchie, and Taylor counties.

  • In Ohio, Belmont County confirmed more than a dozen cases after 90 students visited Myrtle Beach. Ohio health officials also acknowledged an outbreak of at least 18 cases in Stark County, which includes the city of Canton.

  • In Kentucky, at least 10 cases have been traced back to recent travel to Myrtle Beach. The state has not released the counties where those residents live

  • In Virginia, four counties —Roanoke, Botetourt, Craig and Alleghany —have at least 27 cases after vacations to Myrtle Beach.

  • In South Carolina, sources told The State that several students from a Richland County school tested positive after a beach visit. South Carolina health officials also acknowledged 20 student have tested positive after athletic gatherings in Myrtle Beach.

Tourist season

As Myrtle Beach heads into the peak of its tourism season, Bethune said area businesses depend on that traffic. Visitors and locals need to realize we have to live with the virus for a while, Bethune said. She rejected the calls for shuttering businesses and hotels again to try and stem the swell of Horry County Cases.

According to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce data, lodging in Horry County accounts for more than $1 billion sales. Restaurants account for another $1.5 billion.

“We can’t do that,” Bethune said of locking down.

Anyone who comes to Myrtle Beach needs to behave responsibly and adhere to recommendations to help slow the virus’ spread, Bethune said. That includes wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing social distressing.

“We need our visitors, we love them,” the Mayor said.

People gather along the beach Thursday afternoon in Myrtle Beach as coronavirus cases continue to spike. At least 20,551 people in South Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus and 617 have died, according to state health officials. On Wednesday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported an additional 577 cases of the virus, continuing the state’s record-breaking streak of new coronavirus cases. DHEC officials have recorded at least 350 new cases each day since June 4.
People gather along the beach Thursday afternoon in Myrtle Beach as coronavirus cases continue to spike. At least 20,551 people in South Carolina have tested positive for the coronavirus and 617 have died, according to state health officials. On Wednesday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported an additional 577 cases of the virus, continuing the state’s record-breaking streak of new coronavirus cases. DHEC officials have recorded at least 350 new cases each day since June 4.

The post-Myrtle Beach outbreaks have led some to reconsider their vacation plans, including Jacquie Spearman of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I was thinking maybe it’s not the time to go,” she said.

Two factors caused the Spearman family to cancel their North Myrtle Beach trip. One was the news of the outbreaks after visits. The other was the family recently was in New Jersey and had to cut that trip short when they learned they would have to quarantine because they are from a “hot spot” state — designations given to both North Carolina and South Carolina.

The family looked forward to its beach trip but is now left scrounging to see if it can rent a cottage somewhere in North Carolina. The news hit hard for Spearman’s 9-year-old daughter, who is left with swimming in a local pool instead of at the ocean.

“[The trip] is what she was looking forward to,” her mom said.

More regulations?

Myrtle Beach leaders have resisted calls for additional mandates to prevent the spread of the virus among locals and visitors. The push has centered around individual responsibility.

“As cases of the virus continue growing across the country, the focus should not be on individual cities or states, but rather on educating citizens on how to travel responsibly to protect themselves and others,” said Karen Riordan, President & CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, in a statement released Thursday. “It is the responsibility of every individual to take the necessary precautions when they venture out of their homes or travel, such as social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing.”

Municipal leaders have talked about following other South Carolina cities’ lead and instituting a mask requirement. But, no decision will come until next week at the earliest.

Bethune said she contacted grocery and some retail businesses in the city to ask them to require customers to wear masks even as the city has yet to require the measure.

The issue with a mask ordinance is how to enforce it, Bethune said. She added they continue to hope for voluntary compliance with the guidance the state and city have published.

“It’s so crucial to follow guidelines,” she said.

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