MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – Myrtle Beach city leaders have decided to keep public beach accesses closed for now after the governor announced that public beach accesses could reopen.
Gov. Henry McMaster announced Monday afternoon that he is allowing public beach accesses to open, but it will be up to city leaders and councils to decide if accesses will be open in their areas. He said that public beach accesses can be open at noon on Tuesday.
RELATED COVERAGE | McMaster allows public accesses to beaches, some retail businesses to reopen
City Manager John Pedersen issued an executive order on Monday night that will keep public beach accesses closed in order to give the city council time to call a meeting and discuss with Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock the next steps and what kind of restrictions they want to put in place.
“The governor said exactly what we expected. I’m very pleased he has lived up to what he said and has taken that step to give the authority to the local governing bodies,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said in a message to WMBF News.
Bethune said that she doesn’t want a second wave of the virus to hit and interrupt the summer season, which could hurt businesses even more.
“We need to do this methodically, carefully, it needs to be a very controlled reopening so we don’t put ourselves at risk and we don’t want to jeopardize the rest of our summer. We need to do so with a very well thought out plan in place,” Bethune said.
Meanwhile, North Myrtle Beach City Council voted unanimously Monday night during a virtual meeting to open public beach accesses at noon on Tuesday.
Mayor Marilyn Hatley said leaders are putting a lot of confidence in the community and believes that they can do a good job at social distancing and being responsible.
“I’m asking people when we open these beaches, to please listen to our beach patrol. If the beach patrol comes back and ask you separate, please do so,” Hatley said.
Horry County government posted on Facebook that it will allow public beach accesses in unincorporated areas of Horry County to reopen at noon on Tuesday. Leaders reminded people that they must practice social distancing and law enforcement will disperse groups of three or more who pose a public threat to public health.
“Horry County Police Department Beach Patrol and River Patrol will remain in place on the beaches and waterways to enforce the Governor’s orders. Community members are encouraged to use common sense and make good choices,” Horry County government said in a Facebook post.
Surfside Beach, Pawleys Island and Georgetown County will be holding meetings Tuesday morning to decide if they will open public beach accesses.
This all comes after Myrtle Beach city leaders had an emergency virtual meeting on Monday morning to talk about the possibility of reopening the beaches.
Bethune expressed concern about reopening too soon, noting the Grand Strand sees a number of visitors for parts of the country that are currently COVID-19 hot spots.
If those visitors come to the Myrtle Beach area, Bethune questioned if it would lead to a surge of COVID-19 cases across the community in July and August, thereby hindering any recovery efforts.
“We are the place that a lot of people that live in these hot spots want to come to," Bethune said. "They’re ready to get away, and I am concerned about what that will mean to our area if we open up too soon. And could that be leading us potentially -- put us at risk for a secondary peak in July or August when we are trying to recover.”
State Rep. Alan Clemmons was on the conference call, and he recommended that city leaders reopen the beach only to locals.
“Folks need to be out," Clemmons said. "They need to be able to get outside, they need to exercise, they need to clear their mind, they need to find ways to rid themselves of stress, and I encourage your consideration for empowering our locals to be able to use the beach in that way.”
Prock said she has been in contact with law enforcement agencies in Florida, as several communities there have reopened public beach access. She noted there are challenges with enforcement.
City leaders also heard from two medical professionals about their thoughts on reopening.
Debbie Borst, the area’s infectious control nurse, said a major concern presently is the lack of adequate testing. She noted she can currently only test first responders who are showing symptoms.
Borst questioned if the number of confirmed cases along the Grand Strand is truly accurate. She worried the lower numbers would give the public a false sense of security.
“I’m not sure we’ve hit a peak yet,” Borst said.
Dr. Edward Schwartz, the chief medical officer for CareHere, said there are three things communities must consider as they look at reopening.
First, he said they must make sure hospitals have infrastructure and availability to take care of patients who become ill.
Second, the community must have a good number of testing supplies and personal protective equipment for testing.
Finally, Schwartz said the community must be able to efficiently track cases.
When asked about a possible timetable for a secondary peak, Schwartz said he didn’t know.
“We’re in unfounded territory,” he said.