Rehoboth Beach Required Masks on the Sand. Then, People Canceled Stays

Masks are still required while entering and leaving the beach, and where social distancing is not possible.

Woman on the beach wearing a mask
Tim Furlong / NBC10

Rehoboth Beach will no longer require face coverings on the beach, city leaders said Tuesday, after a quiet Independence Day weekend that the local tourism industry and some commissioners blamed on the rule.

The latest rules still require face coverings inside any open businesses, on the Boardwalk and around town. And masks will still be required when entering and leaving the beach.

But, as of Tuesday, masks are not required when:

  • you're in the ocean
  • when social distancing of 6 feet or more is possible

Rehoboth had decided to require masks on the beach before the holiday weekend, but that rule was barely followed and loosely enforced. Most people on the beaches were not wearing masks when NBC10 visited last week. And even then, business owners were worried about the effect it would have.

"It is a signal that people are not welcome, and are not going to have fun here," a business owner told NBC10's Tim Furlong last week.

The Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce went a step further, calling it a concerted effort to reduce crowds.

"[T]he 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," Chamber President and CEO Carol Everhart wrote in a letter submitted to city leaders. "We believe that the Mayor and Commissioners continue to feel that, by reducing the numbers of people in our community, they will reduce infections."

City Manager Sharon Lynn told the Commissioners Tuesday that the mask orders around town and on public streets was mostly being followed. City revenue from parking permits and meters is down significantly compared to the holiday weekend last year, she added.

"The restrictions last week have caused perhaps fewer people to be here," Commissioner Susan Gay said in a Zoom meeting where the city eventually decided to remove the beach mask requirement. But removing restrictions "without doing anything else may just bring all those people back that created the problem in the first place."

"The real catch 22 is there was probably plenty of room on this beach this weekend to social distance, but if the requirement hadn't been there, that wouldn't have been the case," Gay added.

"I was shocked by how many people canceled their hotel reservations because they will not wear a mask on the beach," Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski said. Later he added, "it just doesn't make sense when you're otherwise socially distanced, surrounded by your family, laying on the beach, they're not going to wear a mask. And no one's doing it anyway, and even if we wanted to enforce it we can't."

Some neighboring towns have not required masks on the beach but "strongly recommend" them.

Mayor Paul Kuhns said face coverings are essential whenever social distancing is difficult and to keep a mask handy in case you encounter others.

“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,” Kuhns said in a news release. “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.”

Cases of the coronavirus are on a slight uptick in Delaware and state officials say it's because of beach towns in the most southern Sussex County. Gov. John Carney and Dr. Karyl Rattay singled out ZIP code 19971, which includes Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, as an area of concern in their news conference Tuesday. The state tested more than 4,000 people in the area and traced cases back to senior week visits that spread the virus among residents, restaurant workers and lifeguards.

The changes in Delaware's numbers led to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut putting the state on a quarantine list this week.

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