While Maryland continues to require face coverings in grocery stores and on mass transit during the coronavirus pandemic, a city in Prince George’s County is one of the first in the region to require they be worn at a public park.
Following numerous complaints about social distancing violations, the Greenbelt City Council recently approved a new law requiring masks inside Buddy Attick Lake Park.
It took effect immediately after the 6-1 vote on Monday, April 27.
The 26-acre location, which straddles the Greenbelt Lake, has a more than one-mile trail that was recently starting to become more crowded with walkers, runners and groups of people simply taking in the scenery.
Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd said they welcome the visitors, but lately the situation was drawing extreme concern.
“It just was getting to the point where it was unsafe,” Byrd told WTOP.
City park rangers are now in charge of enforcement of the law, which does exempt those with certain health issues that are complicated by wearing masks and kids under the age of 2.
Byrd describes it as “compliance through persuasion” with warnings to anyone who isn’t abiding.
“They [the rangers] would go up to the person in a very polite way and let them know that they need to have a mask on,” said Byrd. “And if they don’t [comply] they would need to exit.”
So far Byrd said he hasn’t heard of any major issues, but leaves the door open for imposing unspecified fines or civil penalties, if verbal warnings prove ineffective down the line change.
“If that situation escalates and we start hearing numerous complaints related to that, then we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Byrd said.
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Parkgoers are reacting in their own way through different means.
On a public Facebook page dedicated to Buddy Attick Park, one person, who said the law “seems to be the big debate,” posted an image of an ambiguous handwritten sign erected by the side of the lake that reads “Live Free or Mask It!”
Nikko Peral, of Bowie, posted a photo of himself at his personal social media account, tagging the park while wearing a mask at Buddy Attick on the same day the rule was enacted.
“It’s a good law,” Peral said. “Because the Maryland cases are rising. Three of my friends are actually nurses, and they urge everyone to wear a mask.”
Just this week, Maryland recorded its highest single-day total of 1,730 confirmed cases on Thursday.
Others are also turning to social media to sound off about the Greenbelt’s action.
Julie Winters runs the Facebook group “Greenbelters” and said that she’s seeing reactions from both sides be expressed on the page.
“We don’t all agree on what reasonable accommodations are for ourselves and other people,” Winters said. “That’s what’s making this particular new regulation difficult on our members who use that park space.”
Winters feels that whichever direction Greenbelt decided to choose, it was bound to be disappointing to somebody.
“Because if the city says, ‘Well, everybody’s outside so we don’t need masks,’ that doesn’t really account for parts of the trail that are narrow,” Winters said. “And if the city says everyone needs masks, then it makes it hard for people who run and do things [that] are intensely cardiovascular.”
Even though the city might explore tougher enforcement, Byrd is apprehensive about going down that road.
“It’s not about arresting or sending folks to jail,” Byrd said. “It’s really about trying to get folks to understand in an informative educational way that a correction to their behavior needs to be made for the benefit of their safety and for those around them.”
Watch Greenbelt City Council’s April 27 hearing, when the vote was taken on Buddy Attick Lake Park mask law