In what was primarily a perfunctory vote, Rehoboth Beach commissioners have lifted most of the city’s mask-wear mandates - including on the Boardwalk.
During a meeting May 21, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of modifying the city’s civil emergency order to match Gov. John Carney’s 29th modification of the state’s emergency order. The governor’s modification, which went into effect at 8 a.m., May 21, said fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in most places indoors and outdoors.
Exceptions to the governor’s mask-wearing rules include crowded settings, such as public transit, planes, schools, healthcare facilities and congregate settings like prison facilities and homeless shelters.
The city’s adopted resolution also says the city’s emergency order will be modified to match future modifications from the governor. The modification was expected; it would have been news if the modification didn’t happen. Commissioners had expressed interest in following the governor’s modification during a special meeting May 11. During that meeting, commissioners lifted masking requirements for everywhere outdoors, but not the Boardwalk. A few days after the special meeting, the city announced it would be hosting July 4 fireworks this year; they’re scheduled for Saturday, July 3.
Mayor Stan Mills gleefully signed the modification into effect as soon as the unanimous vote was taken.
“You’re witnessing history here. I just wish I had someone to give the magic pen to afterwards,” said Mills, garnering smiles from a majority of the commissioners.
In a prepared statement immediately following the meeting, Mills said the city has been cautious in its response to the pandemic to ensure the safety of residents, visitors and businesspeople.
“We thoughtfully have arrived at the conclusion, following guidance from the CDC and the state, that now is the time to lift most of our restrictions and gleefully get back to regular summertime activities,” said Mills. “With the summer season upon us, we welcome visitors to our beach and community, and encourage those who are not vaccinated to continue to take measures to protect themselves and others.”
The morning after the city’s modification, a majority of the people on the Boardwalk weren’t wearing masks, and city staff were removing signs telling them to do so.
A group of men sat at one of the white benches next to what used to be Dolle’s. All three looked comfortable without their masks on.
“I haven’t worn one yet,” said Woody Marderwald.
Not everyone was as comfortable straight-up ditching the masks.
Valerie White was in town from Pennsylvania celebrating her 63rd birthday. She wasn’t wearing a mask, but she had one ready if needed because she doesn’t think the honor system is the best practice. She said she’s fine when she’s outside, but she was quick to put one on in a store she thought was too crowded.
“I still think it’s a little too soon. We still have to be cautious,” said White.
Rehoboth’s modification does differ from the governor’s in one respect - the handling of masks in government buildings.
The governor’s order continues to require everyone to wear masks in state-owned buildings and facilities. The city’s modification does not have that requirement for its buildings. Rehoboth Beach City Hall, 229 Rehoboth Ave., reopens to the public Tuesday, June 1.
City Manager Sharon Lynn said the governor’s office told her municipalities can make up their own guidelines. However, she said, the governor’s office recommended keeping the requirement for the city buildings.
Commissioner Jay Lagree said he doesn’t believe the city should require vaccinated people to wear masks in the city’s buildings.
“I believe that unvaccinated people should get vaccinated,” said Lagree.
Lynn added the city staff who deal with the public on a regular basis - police, parking and the front lobby of city hall - would like members of the public to wear a mask when entering city buildings.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski asked if Mills should lift the city’s civil state of emergency.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the problem with lifting the city’s own state of emergency would mean the city would lose the ability to enforce the outdoor dining rules put in place for the pandemic.
In case there were more COVID-related issues to discuss, Mills had scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, May 25. That meeting has been canceled.
Except for a couple meetings the last week of May, this meeting also signified the end of online-only commission and committee meetings. The city has been meeting online-only since March 2020.
It appears the city’s environment committee will get the honor of being the first to meet in person when they gather for a meeting Friday, June 4. The commissioner workshop Monday, June 7, is also slated to be held in person. Mills has said all meetings will continue to be livestreamed.