COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has directed agents with the State Law Enforcement Division and local law enforcement to disperse crowds gathered on state beaches to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The additional enforcement stems from the state of emergency McMaster previously issued.
That enforcement order declares that it is unlawful for a person to, “congregate, unless authorized or in their homes, in groups of three or more and to refuse to disperse upon order of a law enforcement officer.”
“Coastal residents can responsibly maintain social distance while enjoying our state’s beaches,” McMaster said in a tweet Friday afternoon.
After McMaster issued the directive, Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock issued a letter to residents, especially those who are concerned about beaches remaining open and the steps the department is taking to make sure people are safe and preventing the spread of the virus:
Myrtle Beach Community,
Our agency has received several messages about large groups and illegal activity on the north end of our beach. To be clear, the beach is not being kept open for economic benefit. Closing it is simply not required at this point, as neither the Governor nor the President has suggested that wide open spaces, such as the beach, be closed to the public. The Governor has ordered that large groups be dispersed and that beachgoers maintain proper social distancing and limit group sizes. Most of our beach visitors are in compliance. We have increased our patrols on the beach and are working with CCU Police to help educate some of the students. Our officers will be working to ensure that order is followed and our focus is on education and compliance. However, if individuals do not come into compliance we will follow the Governor’s order and violators are subject to citation or arrest. This is about the safety of the whole community and we hope our responsible citizens and visitors will work with us on this effort.
I also want to make it clear that other illegal activity will not be tolerated on our beaches or in our community. Public safety is a shared responsibility; this health crisis is not an excuse to behave any differently than any other time of the year. There are ordinances in place to prohibit drinking on the beach, parking regulations in place to make sure we are all being good neighbors, and littering ordinances in place to encourage everyone to clean up after themselves. We take pride in our community and are proud of the efforts that we are taking to be part of the solution to this crisis. Everyone in our community, visitors included, have a part to play in the safety of Myrtle Beach. Understanding and personal responsibility are the keys to reducing the impacts of COVID-19 and maintaining our beautiful community.
If anyone has questions about our city’s response to this virus, please visit our city government and our police department’s page to read about what you can do to be a part of the effort. We are all in this together and we are here if you need us.
Amy Prock, Chief of Police
Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Hellyer also gave an update on the town’s response. He said leaders are not considering closing beaches or implementing a curfew. Hellyer said that he visited the beach Friday afternoon and it appeared people there seemed to spaced out accordingly.
But to comply with the governor’s order, Hellyer said that Surfside Beach Police Chief Ken Hofmann will deploy a Beach Services Officer a little early in the season and have them on the beach to help with social distancing.
Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said the topic of possible beach closures is discussed on a daily basis. But he said most of the beaches in Horry County are part of municipalities, so leaders are leaving the decision to close up the beaches to city leadership. But he said the county will act if the crowds get out of hand.
South Carolina State Parks, which include Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park, said the parks will remain open, but there are some restrictions.
The state parks are taking the following precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus:
- Cabins and campgrounds are open. To minimize contact, visitors are encouraged to pay balances for cabins or campsites by using the website or by calling the call center or calling the park office. If you have a reservation please check your email for instructions on how to check in.
- Restrooms in parks will be closed periodically for thorough cleaning and disinfecting.
- If admission gates are not manned, please pay for admission using the iron rangers and envelopes provided. You may also use our online park store at www.SCParkStore.com to pay for admission directly from your phone.
- All park programming and tours, including historic house tours are suspended until April 1. If you have a question about a specific program in the future please contact the park directly.
- While parks are open, indoor spaces which include visitor centers, nature centers and retail locations are closed to visitors. Park staff will be working as usual and can be located on the park to help you. Also please check messaging on our visitor center doors, kiosks, etc.
- State House tours are suspended until April 1 and the State House Gift Shop is closed until April 1.
- If you have concerns or questions about your upcoming reservation, please contact our call center at 1-866-345-7275, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.