MYRTLE BEACH — Just as spring breakers begin making their way to South Carolina, a QuoteWizard report shows the state is the second riskiest one to visit.
The state leapt from No. 17 in December to No. 2 in March in regard to risk using the same metrics.
“COVID-19-related factors made all the difference,” said Nick VinZant, senior research analyst and insurance expert with QuoteWizard.
The study looked at the state’s number of dangerous driving incidents, current COVID-19 statistics and number of vulnerable adults. It found that Georgia, South Carolina and California are the riskiest states for spring break travel.
City and chamber officials, however, point to the Myrtle Beach area’s COVID cases decreasing, health safety measures in place and traffic control patterns that could be put in place at a moment’s notice that make the region a safe place to visit.
“I find the ranking very confusing,” said Karen Riordan, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
“If you look at the state numbers and you look at the Governor’s statement from (Friday), he would give the state an ‘A’ if not an ‘A+’ for how well we did during COVID… I think his point is one that I agree with, which is that every state, every county and every city had a slightly different strategy. No one in the world had ever gone through what we’ve all gone through the last 12 months.”
Notable from the report showed the state ranked fourth overall in vehicle accidents, ninth in COVID-19 case rates and 11th in hospital capacity.
The Grand Strand saw its worst two months of the pandemic during December and January, a change that previewed itself with a rise in cases around Thanksgiving.
In December, health officials, particularly hospitals, struggled with ICU overcrowding, with outlets such as Tidelands Health reaching as high as 120 percent capacity. The area was hit with 4,234 positive COVID-19 cases, or an average of 136.6 per day — a stark departure from 67.2 in November, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
It didn’t get any better in January, with 4,848 cases and an average of 161.6 per day.
Prior to this two-month stint, Horry County’s worst month had been July 2020 with 4,402 cases, or an average of 142 per day.
In February 2021, Horry County saw a steep decline in positive cases, with 2,815 reported by DHEC, or an average of 100.5.
Thus far in March, the average is well below 80, with no single day going above the century mark all month.
VinZant said COVID-19 and health-related factors had to play a bigger role this year than it did in the past.
“Each factor of the eight was given the same amount of weight, but when you looked at it, there were more health-related factors than there were dangerous driving factors,” he said. “The reason that we did that is because obviously what’s been going on in the last year. That plays a major role.”
Horry County’s vaccination rate ranks third in the state, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. However, according to the latest CDC data, South Carolina ranks 30th in vaccine distribution in the U.S.
Myrtle Beach, the state’s most popular tourism destination, has a mask ordinance through the end of March. On Friday, North Myrtle Beach council voted to end its mask requirement beginning Monday. Horry County Council also does not have a mask mandate in action.
As of the latest statistics Friday, there were 36,521 cases of COVID-19 reported in Horry County and more than 545,000 in the state. Deaths in the county reached 552 and in the state there have been 9,083 deaths.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said Myrtle Beach is a very small part portion of South Carolina, and even though it is a major destination for visitors, many of the statistics the area sees are based on the area’s permanent population rather than factoring in the more than 20 million visitors annually.
“The Grand Strand area’s COVID cases are actually down, not to mention the fact that we still have a mask order in place,” Bethune said. “Our hotels and restaurants are complying with the order and we have seen that our visitors do as well.”
Riordan said there’s a notion that the Myrtle Beach area still has college-aged spring breaks, and actually there are more families during spring break. She gave the state “high marks” for improving its COVID numbers. She said QuoteWizard did not reach out to the chamber for data.
“The stats that we’ve been seeing locally and even statewide don’t culminate to the No. 2 most riskiest state in the United States of America by any stretch,” she said. “I don’t agree with their assessments and I think that most people who are living in Horry County and who are running a business in Horry County would also probably scratch their heads over that ranking.
“To me, it seems very sensationalistic and I don’t think that it’s based on the facts that are on the ground right now.”
Bethune said that more than two months ago, city management and police department devised a public safety plan in anticipation of the area’s increased tourism.
“It includes a very flexible traffic management plan that can be implemented at a moment’s notice at any time of the day or night, she said. “We work with our business community and our chamber of commerce to help us inform our visitors of our laws and what they can expect while in Myrtle Beach.”
Bethune said it is important that visitors “know that we expect them to obey our laws and practice health and safety guidelines.”
“Our police use message boards to ensure that our visitors entering the city know what to expect and our officers are prepared to enforce our laws in a professional, fair and firm manner,” Bethune added.
Myrtle Beach Police does not keep track of whether drivers who commit offenses are from the area or are tourists.
Plans are in the works to increase hospital bed availability by local health care providers, though the buildings are still a while away from being complete.
The full report can be found here: https://quotewizard.com/news/posts/riskiest-places-to-travel-during-the-holidays.
QuoteWizard is a LendingTree company and one of the nation’s leading online insurance marketplaces, according to a release from the company.
Nick Masuda contributed to this report.