Council Votes 4-3 To Lift Boardwalk Mask Requirement In Ocean City

Council Votes 4-3 To Lift Boardwalk Mask Requirement In Ocean City
Boardwalk visitors are pictured wearing their masks in late July. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The majority of the Ocean City Council voted not to extend the Boardwalk mask requirement for another 30 days, but the mayor’s declaration of a state of emergency will remain in effect.

At the close of Tuesday’s work session, City Solicitor Heather Stansbury pointed out Mayor Rick Meehan’s declaration of a state of emergency, including the amendment requiring the wearing of masks on the Boardwalk, was set to expire. The council needed to take action on the Boardwalk mask requirement specifically and the state of emergency declaration in general, or the directives could simply expire.

While the key COVID-19 metrics appear to have stabilized, some on the council believed it was time to simply let the Boardwalk mask requirement expire. However, Meehan urged his colleagues to extend it another 30 days.

“I’ve been up there and I think the large majority are wearing masks,” he said. “I think we’re sending the right message. We’re going to see a lot of busy weekends in October, and I just think we should keep this directive in place.”

Councilman John Gehrig said the mask directive was largely hollow because it wasn’t being enforced to a large degree.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “We’re not really enforcing it anyway. We should just stick with the governor’s order. We certainly don’t need masks up there from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. in October.”

Meehan said the directive should probably be extended if only for appearances.

“Again, I just think it sends the right message and it takes away the ambiguity,” he said. “It sends the right message that the town of Ocean City is being diligent.”

The vote was called on the motion to extend the declaration for the mask requirement on the Boardwalk from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. for another 30 days. The motion failed in a 3-4 vote with Gehrig, Councilmen Matt James, Mark Paddack and Council President Lloyd Martin opposed.

With his Boardwalk mask requirement extension defeated, Meehan said the town should at least adjust the signage to reflect the governor’s standing directive regarding masks in public places. Under Hogan’s current directives, masks are required in public places when social distancing cannot be accomplished appropriately.

“We need to remind people to please wear a mask when they can’t socially distance,” he said. “At least we can be consistent with the governor’s order.”

The city solicitor said with the mayor’s amended order requiring masks on the Boardwalk defeated, there was still the issue of the standing state of emergency, which was also nearing its deadline. Stansbury said the council could vote to extend the state of emergency declaration while removing the Boardwalk mask requirement. Councilman Dennis Dare said there were plenty of reasons to extend the emergency declaration.

“I’ll make the motion to keep the emergency declaration in effect,” he said. “There are a lot of federal and state grants out for reimbursement of COVID expenses. If we go out of the state of emergency, we might not be eligible for those expenses going forward, or it might become a tiered thing where jurisdictions still in a state or emergency get those funds.”

James pointed out the town could go back to a state of emergency if the coronavirus flared up again locally.

“If things get worse, we can always go back to a state of emergency,” he said. “If there was an uptick, I suspect we’d go back to where we were in the spring.”

The council ultimately voted unanimously to extend the emergency declaration for another 30 days and to change the electronic variable message signs to reflect the governor’s standing order regarding the wearing of masks in public places.

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.