Citing inability to enforce and backlash from the business community, Rehoboth Beach commissioners have backtracked on requiring face masks for people while they are on the beach. However, coverings are still needed when entering and exiting the beach.
During a special meeting Tuesday, July 7, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of not requiring face masks on the beach, when social distancing is possible. Commissioners also voted in favor of not requiring face masks when exercising, when social distancing is possible. Exercise is defined as strenuous activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.
In a press release that came shortly after the conclusion of the meeting, the city said face coverings are most essential when social distancing is difficult. The press release said whether the beach is crowded or not, face coverings should always be kept on hand for situations when encountering others. Facial coverings, physical distancing, and personal responsibility are paramount in continuing to move forward with the new normal, said the release.
“Wearing masks has turned out to be very successful at halting the spread of COVID-19 if everyone is on board. It’s an incredibly simple, cheap, and effective intervention,” said Mayor Paul Kuhns, in a prepared statement. “It works for individuals, but more importantly for communities; wear a mask for the people you want to protect, wear a mask for the businesses you want to see open. Wearing a mask to protect ourselves and others is the right thing to do. Let’s show our commitment to our community and small businesses by masking up for each other.”
Everyone over the age of 12 must wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth in public places except for the beach. The order applies to all people and includes bicyclists. The order takes effect immediately.
The vote comes a week after commissioners voted unanimously in favor of requiring face masks be worn by everyone over 12 years of age on all public streets, public sidewalks, public parks, the beach and all commercial establishments. Face masks are still required on the Boardwalk at all times.
For more information, contact the city’s communications department at 302-227-6181, Ext. 522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reaction to chamber of commerce’s July 6 letter
Commissioners spent much of the special meeting reacting to a letter issued July 6 by the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce taking the city to task for the mandate to wear masks on the beach.
“While the Mayor and Commissioners have couched their mandate that all beachgoers wear masks as a science based approach to slow the spread of COVID-19, the board is unanimous in its belief that the move is, in fact, a veiled tactic to purposely reduce the number of visitors to our town,” said chamber President and CEO Carol Everhart, in the letter. “Decisions such as this, which have been made quickly and without adequate input from all stakeholders in the Rehoboth Beach community, are damaging to the local economy and the overall health of our businesses.”
In the letter, Everhart said hotels were hardest hit.
Kuhns began the special meeting by saying he was personally offended by the chamber’s letter and that its allegations were simply not true. He said the goal from the beginning has been to try to protect everyone, and while everyone is not always going to agree on the decisions made, accusations like the ones thrown around in the chamber’s letter are not productive.
All the commissioners joined Kuhns in saying the chamber’s letter was disappointing. However, said Commissioner Susan Gay, if the commissioners had been working better with the business community, there may not have been a reason for the letter.
During the meeting, Everhart said the intent of the letter was to let the commissioners know the business community was not happy with the decisions, and that there was immediate fallout. Hotels in Rehoboth rapidly began getting cancellations after news went out about the face mask mandate, she said, estimating the hotel industry has seen a roughly $830,000 decrease in revenue compared to last year.
Everhart said it wasn’t just hotels. She said she spoke with roughly a dozen businesses, and the loss of revenue from July 4 weekend last year to this year ranged from 40 percent to 70 percent.
Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski said he thought the mandate was the right thing to do, but he was also shocked with how many people canceled their hotel reservations. It’s an example of the trouble commissioners are having balancing public health and safety with everything else, he said.
Commissioner Richard Byrne said there were many reasons for the cancellations, including that the state was putting out information at the same time saying there was a COVID-19 hotspot in the Rehoboth Beach/Dewey Beach ZIP code of 19971. That scared a lot of people, he said.
The city also saw a significant drop in revenue over the holiday weekend. City Manager Sharon Lynn said when comparing July 4 weekend 2019 to 2020, the city saw roughly $90,000 less in revenue from parking permits and meters.
Kuhns said last weekend was one of the slowest weekends of the summer. One of the most significant reasons for the loss of revenue from Independence Day 2019 compared to 2020 was because the fireworks had been canceled this year.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the discussion on the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce letter sent to commissioners July 6.