Dewey Beach commissioners voted July 10 to approve an emergency ordinance requiring face coverings on public property, including bay and ocean beaches, only if social distancing is not possible.
The vote came after several members of the public spoke against an initial proposition to mandate wearing masks while on all public property, excluding ocean and bay beaches, regardless of crowding or social distancing.
Kelly Ranieri, executive director of the Dewey Business Partnership, begged the town not to mandate mask wearing.
“If we require face masks on the beach and public, the same thing that happened in Rehoboth will happen here,” Ranieri said. “We cannot crush this town anymore.”
Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she received thousands of calls and emails when Rehoboth mandated masks, because people were confused.
“We would recommend you follow the CDC guidelines, which is to wear a mask when you can’t social distance, and not add conditions to that,” she said.
Vince DiFonzo, who said he represented Hyatt Place Dewey Beach and Surf Club, said the mask situation in Rehoboth, along with quarantines imposed by New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, resulted in a loss of a quarter-million dollars in business.
Dewey Beach resident Marcia Schieck, who owns several rental properties in town, asked commissioners to err on the side of caution; she expressed concern about the uptick of the virus and said wearing masks is required by the CDC when people are out in public and around people they don't live with.
“No one is social distancing in Dewey Beach,” she said. “In Rehoboth, they are.”
Mayor Dale Cooke said Dewey Beach Patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman told him beachgoers are cooperating with lifeguard requests to social distance if asked. Commissioner David Jasinksi said Dewey Beach Police Chief Sam Mackert told him he supported the ability to write tickets as a civil violation.
“It’s a no-win situation no matter which way we go,” Cooke said, noting he had received an equal number of emails that supported requiring masks and that opposed requiring masks. “We have to follow our hearts.”
The motion passed 4-1; Cooke, Jasinski and commissioners Gary Persinger and David Moskowitz voted for, and Commissioner Paul Bauer voted against. Bauer said it would be an enforcement nightmare and he did not support requiring masks on the beach.
“It didn’t go over well for Rehoboth from a business standpoint,” he said.
The ordinance took effect at noon, Saturday, July 11, and will be terminated by a subsequent ordinance or by automatic expiration the 61st day after enactment, whichever occurs first.
It does not apply to anyone under age 12, or anyone unable to wear a mask due to age or an underlying health condition, or who requires assistance in removing a face covering.
Violation is a civil offense and carries a fine of $50.