'No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service' – Shepherdstown Takes Strides To Encourage Face Masks
Updated on July 2, 2020 at 5:30 p.m.
Scientific evidence is mounting that wearing a mask is an effective way to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But in many states, including West Virginia, officials have been reluctant to mandate mask wearing in public.
In the Eastern Panhandle, one town has passed a resolution that “strongly encourages” mask wearing and gives businesses the option to get local police involved if customers refuse to wear one inside their establishments.
At many businesses in Shepherdstown, there are bright orange posters in windows that read “PROTECT: Masks Required Here,” including a popular shop called the German Street Coffee and Candlery.
“We were issued masks by the town, which I thought was awesome, so when people come without their masks, we can offer them one,” said German Street Coffee and Candlery employee Alexandra Casserley.
Casserley and her co-workers say they were glad to hear about the resolution passed by the Shepherdstown Town Council in late May that strongly encourages mask wearing. She said while they haven't had any issues with customers refusing to wear a mask, she feels safer knowing they can require customers to wear them and that if it was necessary, the police could get involved.
“It just gives us a bit of backup if an individual is difficult,” she said. “I wouldn't necessarily want to cause a huge amount of trouble, but I would like them to be escorted from the premises if they will not cooperate and are aggressively coming in to make a point.”
Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer said the council can’t require anyone to wear a mask, unless the governor makes wearing one indoors mandatory. But he maintains that under state statute, what they’re doing is perfectly legal to protect Shepherdstown residents, visitors and to empower the town’s businesses.
He said the decision to pass the resolution was based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Jefferson County Health Department.
Auxer also points to the region’s increase in coronavirus cases and the fact that Shepherdstown is a tourist town that’s close to the Washington, D.C., metro region.
Jefferson County has seen more than 200 positive cases of coronavirus. Its neighbor, Berkeley County, has held the highest number of positive coronavirus cases in the state for weeks with more than 400 positive cases.
These cases, according to officials, are mostly attributed to community spread and the region's close proximity to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD and Virginia. Recently, several West Virginians have traveled to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and Gov. Jim Justice has cautioned vacationers to practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and wear masks if they feel they must travel.
Both Jefferson and Berkeley Counties remain on high alert for the virus.
“Jefferson and Berkeley initially were considered hotspots,” Auxer said. “And the Jefferson County Health Department is adamant in their suggestion that masks are important.”
According to the town resolution, a business owner is “strongly encouraged” to require or at least encourage the wearing of masks within their establishments. As private entities, they have the right to set their own policies, so requiring a patron to wear a mask to enter is a choice a business can already make.
But along with that resolution, the Shepherdstown Police Department also provided a letter to Shepherdstown businesses that says police can get involved if someone refuses to wear a mask and enters a business anyway. The person could be subject to a trespassing charge if they insist on coming inside after being asked to wear a mask and still refuse to do so.
“It's no different than no shirt, no shoes, no service; no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” Auxer said.
Other establishments in Shepherdstown are also glad to have the resolution, though it’s not as easy to enforce everywhere, including places like a restaurant, where patrons must remove their mask to eat and drink.
Tabitha Dolan, general manager of the Blue Moon Café, said she encourages customers to wear masks up until their food arrives, and when asked to wear one, most people comply. She doesn’t anticipate needing to reach out to the police to enforce mask-wearing inside of her restaurant.
“I really don't think it's going to come to that here,” Dolan said. “Most of the customers are longtime customers, and we don't really usually have any ruckus here. I mean, that's the bottom line. So, I don't think that we'll have to worry about it. And I hope that we don't.”
Dolan admits she doesn’t always wear a mask in public herself, because she has a lung disorder and said she has difficulty breathing with one on. But she requires her staff to wear a mask while working. They also have a sign in their window asking visitors to wear one.
"I have my opinions about it both ways, but I also want my staff to feel comfortable,” she said. “So, I am kind of glad that they did pass [the resolution]. But on the other side of that, you know, I have to think about people like me as well."
In some communities in the United States, where masks have been mandated in public spaces, there has been some pushback. But according to Shepherdstown Mayor Auxer, that hasn’t been the case locally.
Community reaction on one Facebook post about Shepherdstown’s resolution has about 90 comments – mostly negative – saying the move will hurt the town’s businesses and local economy.
But responses on the Shepherdstown Visitors Center’s Facebook page were mostly supportive with many people showing support with “Like” and “Love” reaction emojis.
At the state level, Justice continues to urge West Virginians to wear masks when in public spaces, but has so far, decided against issuing a statewide requirement that people wear masks indoors, which other states have done.
“First of all, it's almost impossible to enforce,” Justice https://youtu.be/CW5D0-7PD_8?t=3734">said in a June 24 virtual press briefing. “And the second part of it is just this: it will divide us. They'll be people that think now we've gone too far and we're really treading on their freedoms … If we can do it on a voluntary basis where we're all pulling the rope together, we’ll be a lot better off.”
Casserley at the German Street Coffee and Candlery said she thinks the state should consider passing a statewide mandate to require the wearing of masks in public.
“I know there's this argument, ‘but my freedom, my freedom,’ but I think with freedom comes responsibility. And we are all responsible for other people's health,” she said. “So, I think by wearing a mask, you are showing respect for others, not necessarily thinking just of yourself.”
West Virginia Public Broadcasting reached out to the Charleston, Morgantown, Huntington and Wheeling city clerk’s to see if some of the state’s larger cities had done anything like Shepherdstown, but at this time, they have not made similar moves.
Last week, however, the Harpers Ferry Town Council passed a resolution almost identical to Shepherdstown's. Harpers Ferry's resolution is also accompained by a letter from the Harpers Ferry Police Department telling businesses they have the option to call local police if patrons refuse to wear a mask and refuse to leave the establishment.
To-date, West Virginia has seen more than 3,000 positive cases of the virus with more than 90 deaths, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.