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Naval Academy midshipmen take to downtown Annapolis on first weekend of liberty during coronavirus pandemic

There was a large crowd outside of the Starbucks in downtown Annapolis as a man walked by talking to his father on the phone.

They had ordered online but the wait for the drinks was going to be long, he said. There were a bunch of midshipmen filling the Starbucks.

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Midshipmen had their first town liberty this weekend, with some midshipmen getting to go on Thursday and Friday as test cases. The rest were broken into two regiments, with the first going Saturday and the second Sunday.

The Naval Academy students were easy to spot in downtown Annapolis, one of the areas they were allowed to go in the 20-mile radius limit. As part of the regulations on the town liberty, all midshipmen needed to wear the white uniforms, called summer whites, and white or black masks.

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Starbucks seemed to be a first stop for many of the midshipmen, who could be seen walking around the area with Starbucks cups in hands.

For plebes, this was the first time since July that they’ve had a chance to get off the Yard. Plebes and their older classmates had decried the lack of liberty as contributing to low morale and mental health concerns.

Some midshipmen gathered in groups together, others took advantage of liberty to see friends and family. It was nice to see midshipmen with their families, said Midshipman 3rd Class Kayla Malone, as she sat on a bench near Market House.

Earlier Sunday, she went to church and was planning to go to a park for a change of scenery and get lunch.

Her favorite place on liberty was the downtown Annapolis area, she said.

Josh Kaplowitz, a 2nd class midshipman, found a quiet place near the State House to talk to his mother. It is nice to be able to get off the Yard, he said, although he has not found the confinement difficult.

“It’s kind of weird because I haven’t had liberty since July,” Kaplowitz said.

He hadn’t been sure if he would leave the academy on the weekend, but he took the opportunity to get some coffee — from Starbucks, although some midshipmen went to Iron Rooster or Red Bean — read and walked around. He likes to go to the State House building because there are plenty of places to sit, he said.

He planned to grab lunch from Lemongrass, one of his favorite spots.

“The best part about liberty is that it gives me hope,” he said. “It seriously gives me hope that things are getting back to normal.”

The downtown area is a common place to find plebes, commented an older midshipman. This was the first time plebes could explore it since arriving in Annapolis.

For the other midshipmen, a crucial place to go on the first weekend of liberty was Target, allowing them the opportunity to pick up some essential items.

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James Margeson, a plebe, said “it’s great” to be out in Annapolis. He and a group of midshipmen planned to hang out with friends.

“Socially distanced, of course,” he said.

Ashlynn George, a plebe, and Midshipman 4th Class Anslee Nichols joined a group to be able to grab coffee and see downtown.

“I didn’t realize how much I haven’t seen,” Nichols said.

The first town liberty weekend came with restrictions beyond the required uniform. Midshipmen were not allowed to purchase alcohol or go to bars. They could not eat at indoor-establishments or attend public gatherings.

George looks forward to liberty where all the midshipmen can go out, instead of being split into two groups. But for now, she’ll take any liberty.

“Honestly, we’re just thankful to be out,” George said. “Restrictions or not, we’re just happy to be out.”

After the Starbucks run, George was looking forward to getting ice cream and to check out food options.

“Ice cream, food and dogs,” she said. “That’s the plan.”

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