Ocean City’s mayor mandated face masks on the Maryland resort’s boardwalk, effective 5 p.m. Friday, but did not get the support of the city council to make the penalty for not wearing a mask a municipal fine instead of a criminal misdemeanor.
Ocean City’s declaration by Mayor Rick Meehan coincides with a new state mandate to wear masks at outdoor events.
At 5 p.m. in Maryland, masks will be required not only at outdoor events where social distancing isn’t possible but also inside public buildings.
Ocean City’s mask mandate for the 2 ½-mile long boardwalk will be in effect from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. for 30 days and will carry a misdemeanor penalty should someone not comply. It applies to everyone over the age of 5. Read the full declaration here.
Bethany and Rehoboth in Delaware already require masks to be worn on their boardwalks.
In an emergency meeting, the city council debated whether to pass a municipal ordinance to make the penalty a municipal fine rather than a misdemeanor.
During the two-hour meeting Friday morning, the council rejected the ordinance proposal, with four members opposed and two in support. Another member of the council left the meeting early and did not vote.
Without an ordinance for a civil fine, the mayor’s declaration automatically makes the penalty for a violation a misdemeanor under the town’s laws.
Council members who opposed the ordinance proposal said they supported the mask mandate.
Police will not automatically charge people with misdemeanors for violations. Instead, they will ask people to wear masks and let them know about the requirement to do so.
Council member John Gerhig said he wanted to see the police educate the public, but added that if violators were “belligerent” and “not nice to our police department,” they should be given a misdemeanor.
“If someone is going to be a jerk, they are going to get a misdemeanor,” Gerhig said.
Council member Mark Paddack, a retired Ocean City police officer, said he wanted to see the requirement go into effect after 11 a.m., after bicyclists are off the boardwalk.
Council members also expressed concerns that a mask requirement would create a negative impression for tourism.
“The town is seeing millions of dollars in cancellations. This is one more negative,” Council member Matt James said.
But the mayor said with 200,000 new people coming into the resort on a weekly basis, he saw the matter differently.
“The worst publicity is that Ocean City does not care about safety,” Meehan said.
Meehan’s initial declaration would have required masks at any time on the boardwalk.
After hearing from council members, he amended the declaration to be in effect from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
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WTOP’s John Domen contributed to this story.