One of the last mask mandates remaining on the Grand Strand ended Thursday, a decision met with a collective shrug by many local businesses.
The city of Myrtle Beach announced Wednesday that it no longer requires people to wear face coverings over noses and mouths while inside businesses and other public places, except in government buildings.
Outliers, the city of Georgetown and its county both still require masks inside businesses, including restaurants.
Myrtle Beach businesses themselves can still require them. It appears most will not. Around the country, many businesses have COVID-19 fatigue and have been exhausted by periodic confrontations with customers who belligerently refuse to wear masks or follow health and safety recommendations.
The change came when Myrtle Beach City Manager Fox Simons issued an executive order that still urges people to wear masks to combat the spread of the coronavirus, but defers to businesses on whether to require them. The city’s mask mandate had been in effect since early July, though it had been sparsely enforced.
In the past, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce expressed opposition to local governments discontinuing their mask mandates. On Friday, however, the chamber CEO Karen Riordan said in a statement that discontinuing the mandate “allows organizations to make their own decisions based on their particular circumstances.”
“Many will continue to require face coverings as will the Chamber,” Riordan said in the statement. “Others may decide that masks are not needed because they have plexiglass barriers or open-air spaces.”
Many business owners and managers were still debating what to do Thursday, less than 24 hours after the mask requirement was eliminated. While many throughout the city were still requiring their employees to mask up, most were letting customers decide for themselves.
Whatever their decision, it’s clear that many businesses have developed COVID mask fatigue.
“I figure a year has been plenty of time for citizens to now make their own decisions on how to go about their own ways of life,” said Jay McAllister, owner of Bourbon Street Bar & Grill, who is allowing both his employees and customers to make their own call. “Since pretty much every other restriction has been lifted, the mask could be as well.”
A lot of businesses weren’t being very strict about the customer mask mandate in recent months anyway, many of them said Thursday, and McAllister doesn’t believe the city had been enforcing the mask rule, as many people had been going without them indoors. “I honestly never even really saw it be enforced by the city,” he said.
Buz Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on Ocean Boulevard, has joined McAllister in putting the decision in the hands of both his employees and customers. Plyer said he scheduled vaccination appointments for any of his workers that wanted them.
“We’re leaving it up to them,” said Plyler, who sells paper masks for less than $1. “In most cases you can get a vaccination if you are a retail employee, and we have arranged for our staff to get shots and in most cases they have. We have very few people who don’t have at least one shot and a lot of people have had two.”
Joe Amendola, owner of Blondie’s gift shops in Broadway at the Beach and Tanger Outlets on U.S. 501, said the Broadway entertainment and shopping complex is requiring its businesses’ employees to wear masks, and his workers will continue to use them at both locations.
“As a property, we still encourage the wearing of face coverings by guests and will continue to do so, as long it is a recommended guideline of the CDC,” Amendola said.
Many customers were wearing masks in stores Thursday, and a lot of the signs requiring masks were still posted on store doors and windows even in locations where it was no longer a requirement.
“As far as customers, it has been mixed, but generally there are way more still with masks than without,” Amendola said.
The Coastal Grand Mall is allowing its individual businesses to dictate their own mask rules, and companies including Gap and Express require employees to wear them. Elizabeth Parker, manager of the mall’s Gap store, said her parent company’s policy still requires customers to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“We follow Myrtle Beach guidelines,” said Coastal Grand Mall marketing director Jessica Kirkman. “We just encourage our shoppers to use good judgment and each independent store has their own corporate policy. We as management staff wear our masks and will continue to wear ours.”
Mark Lazarus, who owns and operates three Grand Strand amusement parks, including the Myrtle Waves water park and Broadway Grand Prix family go-kart park in Myrtle Beach, will still require most of his employees to wear masks.
“My food service employees and employees that come in contact with customers will still wear masks,” Lazarus said. “To avoid confusion we will ask customers to wear them when inside but will not require it.”
North Myrtle Beach City Council did not extend the city’s state of emergency and no longer has a mask mandate. Surfside Beach never had a mask mandate. Horry County let its mask mandate expire last fall. The city of Conway let its mask ordinance expire on March 16, according to the city’s website.
Gov. Henry McMaster’s mask mandate, which he rescinded earlier this month, primarily covered restaurants.
Elsewhere in the state, Charleston extended its mask requirement for public places in March, according to the city’s COVID-19 updates, and Greenville extended its emergency ordinances, which require customers to wear masks in retail businesses.
Riordan, of the Myrtle Beach Chamber, said outside of mask wearing, it’s also important for everyone in the community to be vaccinated. The CDC has said in recent weeks that vaccinated individuals can gather safely maskless with others in small groups. Everyone 16 and older in the state is eligible to be vaccinated.
“At the same time, we’re sharing with visitors the message to travel responsibly by bringing along their mask when they’re out and about exploring all the fun-filled things to do here at the beach,” she said in a statement. “It’s a special time along our 60 miles of coastline when families and friends are reconnecting and enjoying those special moments that we’ve longed for this past year.”