Mayor Advises Against OC Trips; Weekend Visitor Reports Positive Test

OCEAN CITY – The resort’s mayor is encouraging potential visitors to Ocean City to delay their plans amid the current pandemic.

“To further protect our residents, visitors and town employees we request that visitors postpone trips to Ocean City beginning immediately,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “This action is necessary to ensure compliance with social distancing and flatten the curve of this dangerous Coronavirus. At this point, the only weapon we have to combat this potentially fatal virus is to take drastic measures. All of us have to work together to outlast and shorten the cycle of this pandemic…. “While we look forward to the time when we can welcome you again, now is not the time to visit Ocean City. We are urging citizens to stay home, be responsible and avoid large crowds, including on our beach and Boardwalk. We will continue to monitor this changing situation and will not hesitate to take additional actions necessary to protect our community.”

It is now believed at least one individual who has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus was among the thousands of revelers that poured into resort establishments for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations last weekend.

After a whirlwind exchange of social media posts, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) on Thursday acknowledged a woman’s claim to have tested positive for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, and to have been out among hundreds of others at various establishments in the resort last weekend are likely true. The OCPD’s statement came after a back-and-forth exchange of social media posts late Wednesday during which the individual reported she had tested positive and had been out socially in Ocean City, followed by a post from the OCPD asserting the individual’s claim was untrue, followed by an admission on Thursday it likely is true.

“The original post came from an Ocean City visitor who stated she tested positive for COVID-19,” the OCPD statement reads. “The health department is working to confirm the report. However, we believe that it is likely true. Remember, this health crisis is changing rapidly. We are working hard to protect the health and safety of our residents and visitors.”

In the statement, the OCPD regretted the initial response claiming the individual’s assertions on the social media post were patently false, instead blaming its response somewhat on semantics.

“We apologize for the misinformation that occurred last night regarding a report of COVID-19,” the statement reads. “We admit we should have more carefully worded our post. Rather than stating there was a ‘false report,’ we should have said ‘there are no confirmed cases in Worcester or Wicomico County’.”

As of Thursday morning, the number of individuals testing positive for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, virus across Maryland had reached 107. The only officially reported case anywhere east of the Chesapeake Bay or anywhere on the Eastern Shore as of Thursday morning was still just a single case in Talbot County.

However, on Wednesday, a woman, who lives in Maryland, posted a video on social media asserting she has tested positive for COVID-19 and was among the thousands of revelers who turned out for St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the resort last weekend, mentioning specifically a couple of popular establishments in the midtown area. That video post was taken down quickly for unknown reasons, but it was circulated long enough to raise a considerable amount of angst around the resort community which had heretofore been immune from actual reported cases of the virus.

The OCPD through its own social media platforms, quickly responded, asserting the woman’s claim to have tested positive for the virus and to have been out among the weekend revelers was false.

“We have been made aware of the video from a female Salisbury resident claiming to have COVID-19 and visiting several establishments in the Ocean City area this past weekend,” the OCPD’s original response read. “We have consulted with our emergency management partners locally and at the state level along with the health department. Her claim has been ruled false through official channels.”

The OCPD later retracted that statement, citing the hundreds of responding comments violated, or at least threatened, the individual’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, rights.

It can be argued the individual who tested positive ceded her HIPAA rights when she posted her condition and where she had been in and around Ocean City on social media. The woman also shared screenshots of her official hospital diagnosis.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.