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Rehoboth chamber calls for end to mask mandate

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The Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce is calling for the state’s largest beach destination to lift its face mask mandate as it is impacting local businesses. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

REHOBOTH BEACH — Six days after Rehoboth Beach commissioners mandated that everyone had to wear face masks everywhere in the city, the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce is calling to end it.

The chamber’s board of directors believe that requiring face coverings on streets, sidewalks, the beach, and commercial establishments was a “veiled tactic to purposely reduce the number of visitors to our town,” which is damaging the local economy.

“The beach mask requirement has resulted in significant losses in revenues, as many overnight visitors have cancelled their reservations after learning that masks are required for all beachgoers. Hoteliers, restaurateurs and retailers must helplessly endure the loss in customer counts as our visitors now choose to stay in neighboring towns,” wrote Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, to city officials.

On June 30, the Rehoboth Beach commissioners unanimously voted on face coverings after a spike in COVID-19 cases was traced to the city and neighboring Dewey Beach. As of Monday evening, Delaware has 54 patients hospitalized with the COVID-19 virus, among the fewest number recorded since the pandemic began.

Fearing the loss of tourism revenue that comes within a few short weeks per year, the chamber’s board points out that differing face mask requirements in Ocean City, Maryland, and other Delaware coastal towns could drive visitors to vacation elsewhere this summer.

“Some of these visitors, having tried something new, will decide to go to those towns in the future, resulting in a loss of future business to the town,” Everhart wrote.

Instead, chamber leaders suggested that city officials start an emergency-related beach tag program to help curb beach crowds.

Meanwhile, Lewes now requires face coverings in the downtown business district, from Savannah Road to Market Street and from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to Third Street.

So far, the merchants have been supportive of the decision that came on the eve of the city’s busiest weekend in the season, Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer said.

“We had a very busy Fourth of July with a lot of visitors. There were some cancellations because of the seating options removed at the bars, but they were quickly filled by other people who were trying to get their reservations in before and couldn’t,” she said.

However, Reamer noted that it was still too early to determine the mandate’s effect, so time will tell whether the mood shifts.

“For right now, the reception has been positive. I’ve been out and I saw a lot of people wearing face masks,” she added. “I’ve heard that there have been a few upset when it was asked before you come into a business before.”

In addition, Bethany Beach requires face coverings on the boardwalk, boardwalk plaza and the downtown commercial area, but excluded its beaches from the order. In hopes of thinning out beach crowds, however, Bethany Beach also requires some beachfront parking spaces to be reserved for residential use from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

By Katie Tabeling

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