Ocean City Mayor Meehan Wants to Keep Ocean City Visitors Healthy and Wants Them to Come Back Next Year
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan brought an emergency proclamation to the City Council for discussion during a special meeting Friday. The proposed proclamation would require everyone to wear masks on the Boardwalk effective at 5 p.m. on July 31 which coincides with Governor Hogan’s order requiring masks when social distancing is not possible. After input from members of the City Council, most of whom agree that the wearing of masks is valuable, Mayor Meehan amended his original proclamation language to include timing from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. The mayor’s final proclamation language allows people to ride bikes and take walks on the Boardwalk without masks early in the morning when social distancing is possible. Any violation of the mayor’s order to wear masks on the Boardwalk between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. is a municipal infraction. The governor’s order to require masks when social distancing is not possible remains in effect starting at 5 p.m.July 31 and any violations can be charged as a misdemeanor across Maryland.
This proclamation by Mayor Meehan is in effect for the next 30 days and will be enforced. “There are many instances where you can social distance, but there are also situations when you can’t…people try to, but there are just times when it isn’t possible.,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. Therefore, if anyone is caught in a situation where they cannot social distance, a mask is required.
The declaration also includes a directive to require masks at all indoor and outdoor special events held by the town. Exceptions outlined in Governor Hogan’s order also apply in Ocean City.
The beach is not included and Mayor Meehan said that there is plenty of room to social distance.
By making the order more stringent than the Governor’s, Mayor Meehan was able to lower the penalty to a civil citation rather than a mandatory misdemeanor charge
Gehrig contested why the town is going above and beyond the governor’s orders. Councilmember James doubted that the order is enforceable and discussed the negative impact the order will have on the local economy. The mayor countered that everybody in the state is watching Ocean City. He added that this is an opportunity for Ocean City to lead and do something positive. “We want our visitors to be safe and come back again next year,” said Meehan. The mayor does not want visitors to be charged with a misdemeanor. By increasing the masking requirements to be more strict than what the governor has ordered, Ocean City is allowed to lower the penalty for non-compliance to a civil citation, rather than having to charge the infraction as a misdemeanor.
Councilmember Paddack, a veteran of the police department, was against the order from the start. “I want my police going out and fighting crime…We are adding fear and not following the science.,” said Councilmember Paddack. He added that the ordinance “will have a detrimental effect on the town.”
Mayor Meehan responded that he believes the order sends a message of safety. He also mentioned the vast compliance with a similar order on the Rehoboth Boardwalk.
The new declaration was compared to a smoking citation. If police officers ask people to put on a mask and they comply, they will not face a fine. However, if they do not comply, they will be penalized. Mayor Meehan stressed that he does not want to have to arrest people for not wearing masks. The mayor wanted this proclamation to be passed as an ordinance by a vote of the council. Councilmember Dare called for a vote on the Proclamation to be turned into an ordinance. This motion was seconded by Council Secretary Mary Knight and then, Councilmembers Gehrig, Paddack, James, and DeLuca voted against the motion. Using the authority of the mayor’s office, Meehan decided to go ahead and issue the Emergency Proclamation to require masks for everyone on the Ocean City Boardwalk between the hours of 8 am and 2 am. Any failure to wear a mask triggers a civil penalty rather than a misdemeanor charge.
Despite their disagreements, all officials agreed that there is no perfect action during this unprecedented time.
Signs will Be Installed Across Town to Educate the Public
New signs will be installed across the town today and the communications team is working rapidly to make the public aware of the declaration.
The special meeting was announced following Governor Hogan’s press conference Wednesday. Hogan announced that face coverings are required for those over the age of five in all indoor public places of business and in outdoor public settings where social distancing is not possible.
Mayor Rick Meehan issued a brief video message Thursday in which he reminded visitors to practice social distancing and wear masks. “Please remember, this is not a COVID-free zone. So, we ask everyone to make smart decisions, follow all guidelines, and wear a mask in all retail stores, restaurants, bars, and even outside in public areas like the Ocean City Boardwalk. Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from those not in your group whether you’re inside or out.,” said Meehan.
The Ocean City Boardwalk has been subject to criticism throughout the summer as some tourists have strolled the boards without masks. Effective at 5 pm July 31st, town officials are requiring visitors to wear masks in public areas where they are unable to social distance as the Governor has ordered and have increased the rules to include everybody on the Ocean City Boardwalk between the hours of 8 am and 2 am. After all, it is the law and Ocean City is promising to enforce it.
Town officials asserted the governor’s sentiments Friday, reminding the public that the fight against Covid-19 is all but over.
Covid-19 cases in Worcester County have increased significantly throughout the summer. There are now 550 cases in Worcester County. Cases are up 197% since Memorial Day and 88% since Independence Day. However, the county’s positivity rate, one of the key metrics Governor Hogan is following, is 3.86%, down from a high of 7.37% on July 21. Hogan singled out this notable decline during Wednesday’s press conference.
The Worcester County Health Department has ramped up testing at several locations, including at the West Ocean City Park and Ride and the Ocean City Convention Center. More than 2,000 people were tested in July, which accounts for 16.3% of the population. To find a testing site, click here. More than 1.2 million people have been tested across the state.
The governor put Maryland’s Roadmap to Recovery on pause Wednesday due to a continued increase in hospitalizations and alarming numbers for Marylanders under 35. Hogan said that Maryland is at a “fork in the road – a critical turning point where we could either continue making progress, or we could ignore the warnings and spike back up like much of the rest of the country.”
He also discussed the health department’s contact tracing system, which can now pinpoint specific locations and activities that have contributed to Marylanders contracting Covid-19. Interviews with patients revealed that 44% attended family gatherings, 23% attended house parties, and 21% attended outdoor events. Additional interviews showed that many activities are indeed risky. These activities include working outside of the home (54%), shopping at retail stores (39%), outdoor dining (23%), and indoor dining (23%). The governor said that there is a “false sense of security” when you are with family and friends outdoors.
Despite calls from Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski to suspend indoor dining and new restrictions in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, Governor Hogan has hesitated to impose statewide orders. He maintains that most businesses are following the rules and that each jurisdiction has the authority to announce additional orders.
Throughout July, several Ocean City restaurants including, Fish Tales, the Purple Moose Saloon, and Dry Dock 28 made headlines for closing their doors due to staff members testing positive for Covid-19. Many restaurants have reopened and are taking more safety measures such as purchasing sanitizing machines and instituting ‘no standing’ rules. However, Café Mirage and others are reporting new cases and shutting down, proving that the coronavirus is still spreading, and no one is immune.
To watch the full meeting, click here.