Ocean City is­sues board­walk mask man­date

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Colin Camp­bell

Masks will be re­quired on the Ocean City board­walk be­tween the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. and dur­ing spe­cial events — the lat­est mea­sure an­nounced in Mary­land to curb the spread of the coron­avirus.

The rules went into ef­fect at 5 p.m. Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to a dec­la­ra­tion signed by Mayor Rick Mee­han af­ter two hours of dis­cus­sion in a vir­tual City Coun­cil meet­ing Fri­day. The rules ex­pand upon Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s lat­est statewide or­der, which re­quires masks to be worn by ev­ery­one over age 5 in all pub­lic build­ings and out­doors wher­ever so­cial dis­tanc­ing isn’t pos­si­ble.

A re­lated City Coun­cil or­di­nance to lower the penalty to a mu­nic­i­pal in­frac­tion from a mis­de­meanor, the penalty in the gov­er­nor’s or­der, was voted down 4-2 by the six-mem­ber coun­cil.

“There are peo­ple who are afraid to go on the board­walk be­cause not every­body’s wear­ing a mask,” Mee­han said. “I do be­lieve that [the dec­la­ra­tion] sends a mes­sage to ev­ery­one. … Not a mes­sage of fear, but a mes­sage of safety.”

While the num­ber of cases of COVID-19 in Worces­ter County, where Ocean City is lo­cated, re­main a frac­tion of those in other Mary­land coun­ties, they have in­creased re­cently as peo­ple have flocked to the beach to es­cape months of lock­down monotony.

The mayor’s move Fri­day brings Ocean City’s board­walk mask rule in line with the one in nearby Re­hoboth Beach, Delaware, where masks are re­quired on streets, side­walks, the board­walk and in­side busi­nesses within city lim­its.

Much of the City Coun­cil dis­cus­sion Fri­day fo­cused on the dif­fi­culty of en­forc­ing a mask­ing rule on the en­tire 3-mile-long board­walk, the ques­tion of whether masks could or should be re­quired in cer­tain pedes­trian-heavy times or zones, and the man­ner — and op­tics — of how po­lice ap­proach tourists who aren’t wear­ing masks.

The mayor and coun­cil agreed that they wanted po­lice to take an ed­u­ca­tional, rather than puni­tive, ap­proach to non­com­pli­ance, re­mind­ing board­walk visi­tors of the rule and of­fer­ing masks to peo­ple who don’t have them.

Coun­cil­man John Gehrig Jr., who voted against the or­di­nance to lower the penalty, called the mask­ing rule “an en­force­ment night­mare.”

“Ed­u­ca­tion needs to be the ini­tia­tive,” he said. “I don’t want a bunch of tick­ets be­ing writ­ten if we can avoid it at all costs. We need to carry masks, pe­riod.”

Ocean City Po­lice Chief Ross C. Buz­zuro and Coun­cil­man Mark L. Pad­dack, who is a po­lice of­fi­cer, cau­tioned of the pub­li­cre­la­tions catas­tro­phe for the re­sort town that could fol­low a vi­ral video of an ar­rest stem­ming from peo­ple re­fus­ing to wear a mask or leave the board­walk.

“When­ever we take ac­tion on the board­walk, the rule of thumb is we’re be­ing videoed,” Buz­zuro said. “I want you all to re­al­ize it all works fine if every­body is in com­pli­ance. As we know, there are in­di­vid­u­als that are not go­ing to want to com­ply with us. Once we en­gage, we’re not go­ing to back off.”

The mayor coun­tered that “all eyes are on us” as crowds con­tinue to flock to the beach town de­spite the pan­demic, and he wor­ries more about peo­ple hav­ing a mis­con­cep­tion that “Ocean City doesn’t care about safety, they only care about the money.”

“The worst pub­lic­ity is all the pic­tures of every­body not wear­ing masks, stand­ing on top of each other,” Mee­han said.

Coun­cil­man Den­nis Dare agreed, say­ing the big­ger risk would be for Ocean City not to take ac­tion and al­low an out­break to hap­pen that could lead to even more re­stric­tions.

“We’re in the spot­light,” Dare said.

“Every­body’s look­ing at beach re­sorts right now, and the ones around us have al­ready done what we’re con­tem­plat­ing to­day. … Ei­ther we take this lit­tle step here and do our part to help, or take the big­ger risk.”

Ex­cep­tions to the mask­ing rule in­clude: “a bona fide dis­abil­ity or med­i­cal con­di­tion,” com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple who are hear­ing-im­paired, ex­pos­ing work­ers to un­safe work­ing con­di­tions, con­sum­ing food or bev­er­ages and en­gag­ing in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity “where the use … is likely to pose a bona fide safety risk.”

Lim­it­ing the mask­ing re­stric­tion to the hours of 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. was a sug­ges­tion by Coun­cil Sec­re­tary Mary Knight, who noted that early-morn­ing walk­ers like her use the board­walk and are able to so­cially dis­tance ap­pro­pri­ately long be­fore it be­comes crowded. She re­quested ex­tend­ing it be­yond mid­night to ac­count for bar­go­ers.

Coun­cil­men Tony DeLuca, Matt James, Gehrig and Pad­dack voted against the or­di­nance to lower the penalty, while Coun­cil mem­bers Dare and Knight voted for it.

The dec­la­ra­tion lasts 30 days, af­ter which point it would need to be re­newed or ex­pire.

“I think this is the right thing to do,” Mee­han said. “I be­lieve this is the right di­rec­tion to go.”

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