Rehoboth Beach commissioners know it will be hard to enforce, but their message is clear - face masks are required to be worn by everyone, everywhere, including on the beach.
During a special meeting June 30, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of requiring face masks on all public streets, public sidewalks, public parks, the beach and all commercial establishments. Everyone over 12 years old must cover their nose and mouth in public places. The order applies to all persons, including bicyclists. The new requirement went into effect at 5 p.m., July 1. Face masks have been recommended in all those locations and required on the Boardwalk since mid-May.
Mayor Paul Kuhns said enforcing the requirement is going to be difficult, but it’s important to get the message out that Rehoboth is taking the issue seriously. Friends, neighbors and visitors need to be pushed, he said.
“When you're on the beach, a mask is required. When you're in the water, that’s not part of the order,” said Kuhns.
Commissioner Richard Byrne said the city is at a tipping point, and he said, “We don’t want to tip backward.”
The vote in Rehoboth came hours after Gov. John Carney announced the closure of bar activity at the beach effective Friday, July 3, because of a recent spike of COVID-19 cases in the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach areas.
After citing continued and blatant disregard for social distancing from visitors and a handful of business owners, City Manager Sharon Lynn made the recommendation to the commissioners. She said citywide mask wearing is a simple message to get across that everyone can understand.
The infrastructure of Rehoboth Beach can’t support social distancing in June, July and August, said Lynn, adding city staff will begin putting signage up as soon as possible.
The citywide face masks requirement was approved even though Police Chief Keith Banks said the department will have trouble enforcing it. The department will do the best it can, he said.
Commissioner Steve Scheffer said it’s similar to speeding on the highway - some people get caught and some people don’t.
Banks said the department is facing staffing issues because the number of seasonal cadets is way down. In a normal year, there are 26 cadets hired, he said, but the department is down to 16 right now. He explained only 22 were hired to begin with, three have resigned, one was fired for making a racially based post on social media and another is out after testing positive for COVID-19.
These are young kids with anxieties about COVID, said Banks.
It’s not just the police department facing staffing issues. Banks said the number of lifeguards is down because three have tested positive for COVID-19, and another five are quarantining due to exposure. There are enough lifeguards to staff all the beaches for now, he said.
Banks said his cadets have already been greeted with profanities and general disdain when asking visitors to put a mask on when they’re on the Boardwalk. It’s getting difficult for cadets, who are college-aged, and the longer this goes on, the more agitated people are becoming, he said.
People are drawing a line in the sand, said Banks. The people who want enforcement are thanking the officers; the people who don’t want to wear a mask, are yelling at the officers, he said.
Banks said there are a handful of excuses being used by people for not wearing masks - a medical condition, eating and general forgetfulness. People are blurting out they have a medical condition, and whether it’s true or not, the officer isn’t allowed to question it too much, said Banks.
Banks said the department has already handed out 12,500 masks and just purchased another 5,000 more, which he said he expects to run out of before the end of the weekend.
After saying she was in favor of the change, Commissioner Lisa Schlosser asked if there would be latitude given to people running and exercising on the beach. A person can’t wear a mask doing high-intensity training on the beach, she said.
The other commissioners quickly said there shouldn’t be any special exceptions.
If people are given a crack, they’ll drive a Mack Truck through it, said Scheffer.
In neighboring Dewey Beach, masks are not required; state parks are recommending face coverings but not requiring them; and Lewes officials are expected to take action on July 2 after the Cape Gazette’s print deadline.