Sandy Farrow’s boss texted her Monday morning. Don’t forget, she said, to bring a face mask.
Baltimore’s renewed indoor mask mandate took effect at 9 a.m. Monday. With COVID-19 cases rising, face coverings are required in all indoor spaces within city limits.
That includes Vikki’s Fells Point Deli inside Broadway Market, where Farrow was working, mask on, Monday afternoon.
With so many tourists coming in from out of town to the market and the hypercontagious delta variant infecting so many Marylanders, Farrow feels more secure with the added layer of protection, in addition to the plastic barriers that hang above the lunch counter. Whenever she feels the slightest bit ill she wonders: Could it be COVID-19?
Her co-worker, Alissa Matthews, agreed. “Of course it’s annoying, it’s hot; but it’s necessary. Better safe than sorry.” They tugged at masks that had drifted below their noses.
With a sign taped to the door advising of the mask requirement, most staff and visitors to Broadway Market seemed to be complying with the newly reinstated mandate. There were, of course, some rule-breakers, with masks either migrating below the chin or nonexistent.
Sitting outside the market, Tony Redmon wore his mask just below his chin as he prepared to dive into an order of chicken and waffles. He was in favor of the new mandate and said he believed it never should have been taken away to begin with. Once the rules lifted, he said, “Those [COVID-19] numbers started rising.”
Sabrina Smith, the kitchen manager at nearby Max’s Taphouse, shared Redmon’s view.
Smith and the rest of the staff working inside the kitchen of Max’s Taphouse had continued to wear their masks throughout the pandemic even after Baltimore lifted the requirement as vaccination rates increased. But while roughly 65.52% of Maryland’s population has been at least partially vaccinated, other COVID metrics have been climbing.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maryland has increased almost threefold over the past month — though nearly all the patients have been unvaccinated, according to the state.
While Smith said she feels “a little bit safer” knowing the mandate has been reinstated, “I won’t feel safe until it’s completely gone,” she said, referring to the pandemic.
The return to masks means a return to mask sales for local retailers. E.C. Pops, a Fells Point gift shop, saw about a 50% increase in purchases of reusable masks as early as last week, said manager Laylah Chanel. A popular choice: the Maryland flag mask.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing a mask indoors in areas with substantial community transmission of COVID-19. Most Maryland jurisdictions meet that criteria. However, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has said he does not plan to implement a statewide mask mandate.
Some business owners said they worried that the mask mandate being in effect only in Baltimore — and not surrounding counties — might deter people from coming in.
“It’s a struggle because the surrounding localities don’t have it,” said Anna Leventis, owner of Sobo Cafe in Federal Hill. “It puts us in a gatekeeper role.”
For months, restaurant industry workers have complained of their new designated role as “mask police,” having to constantly remind customers of the rules — and facing sometimes hostile reactions.
Becca Turner, general manager of Merritt Clubs on Centre Street in Mount Vernon, said the club is going to abide by city rules but has had some clients request freezes to their membership in light of the mandate.
“We do have parties from both sides of the mask spectrum come here,” Turner said.
At Earth Treks, a climbing gym in Hampden, many guests had already begun to wear masks again as COVID-19 cases had been rising, said employee Madison Wester. While a few had complained about the challenges of working out with a face covering on, “For the most part, people seem to be pretty compliant,” she said. “I definitely feel a lot safer with the mask mandate back.”
Phil Braun, 74, was stocking the shelves at Eddie’s of Mount Vernon early Monday in an American flag mask. The grocery store worker said he is disappointed the spike in COVID cases has made the city bring back the indoor mask mandate, but he has no problems with the mandate itself.
“It is what it is. If it’s for the best, it’s going to be safer, you know that,” Braun, a South Baltimore resident, said.
Brent Joseph had stopped by Eddie’s during a day trip to Baltimore from Washington. Joseph said he is used to wearing masks indoors in D.C., where a mask mandate is in place. If COVID case numbers are rising, it only makes sense to mask up, he said.
“Do what you have to do. A mask is the least you can do to protect yourself and your community. Anyone complaining, well, that’s First World problems,” Joseph said.