‘They’re Just Doing Whatever They Want.’ Few Masks Are Seen as Beach Town Reopens.

‘They’re Just Doing Whatever They Want.’ Few Masks Are Seen as Beach Town Reopens.

OCEAN CITY, Md. — Dave Heyburn and Nevada Kaler viewed their weekend on this seaside boardwalk as an escape from the coronavirus “red zone” where they live, in Elverson, Pa. Neither wore masks, which are not required to be worn outdoors here.

The illness at home is “always in the back of your mind,” said Ms. Kaler, a part-time nursing assistant standing alongside her husband, who was enjoying the sunshine on a newly reopened public bench. “But you’ve got to live your life.”

That outlook appeared pervasive among the thousands of maskless vacationers who flocked to Ocean City for the beginning of the Greater Washington region’s emergence from coronavirus lockdown this weekend. Earlier in the week, on Memorial Day, photos of people strolling cheek-to-jowl on the teeming boardwalk appalled public health officials and prompted warnings about a potential new surge in cases.

This weekend brought little apparent change. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland has emphasized that the state is only at phase one of his “Roadmap to Recovery,” a step toward normalcy that still requires the public to abide by restrictions to keep the virus from spreading.

Yet the crowds out enjoying the spring weather in Ocean City suggested a different mentality.

“They’re just doing whatever they want,” said Aaron Gusler, a surf rescue technician — meaning lifeguard — for the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

“People come up here with a vacation mind-set,” he said. Mr. Gusler is from Harrisonburg, Va., where he feels the pandemic has been impossible to ignore. But in Ocean City, “It’s weird. It’s like it’s not even happening.”

Lifeguards patrol the water, not the big clusters of sunbathers on the beach, where groups of as many as 42 people gathered on the sand early Friday.

“They told us to stay as far away from them as you can, and do your job,” he said. The beach patrol gave its employees N95 masks, but Mr. Gusler did not have his on. He said he didn’t want to smear the blue-toned zinc oxide sunscreen coating his nose.

“I’m sure it’ll spike again around here,” he said of the virus. “I’m just glad I have a job, man.”

Most of those eating, strolling and sunning on the boardwalk Friday shunned masks. “I work in a Covid hospital and I don’t care,” said Brandy Unger, who said she is a nurse at WellSpan York Hospital in Pennsylvania. “It’s the flu.”

Her husband, Hunter Unger, a mechanic, said, shrugging, “I work on all kind of random people’s cars, and eh.”

By the governor’s order, face coverings are required inside businesses, but at the Quiet Storm Surf Shop, a clerk folding T-shirts said, “we make them optional.” On the boardwalk outside, a police officer who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the news media said, “the problem is merchants have to enforce” the mask order, but many are reluctant to alienate their first customers of the summer.

“They’re supposed to document violations and report them to the health department,” he said. The police — who were issuing $100 tickets to people vaping on the boardwalk Friday — do not cite mask violators.

At Flashback Old Time Photos, where patrons don vintage-looking costumes to pose for portraits against faux-historical backdrops the only masks offered were for customers who wanted to dress like cowboy bank robbers.

“We’re doing good cleaning surfaces, keeping our masks on and staying six feet away,” said Sue McCrodden, the shop manager. The store’s employees try to spray the costumes with Lysol after each use, and launder them at the end of each day, she said.

“If we keep telling people to keep their masks on, it’s going to stress them out and we want them to have a good time,” said Doyinsola Adebakin, an employee.

“What are we going to do?” Ms. McCrodden asked. “We can’t lose money.”

Michael Cantine, who owns Fat Cats Airbrush, which makes personalized T-shirts and toys, said this opening week has been busier than the same time last year because children are out of school. To operate the store safely, he and his staff initially installed Plexiglas barricades, donned face masks and moved all their stock behind a counter so customers couldn’t handle it. A week later, that’s all been undone.

“People were going around” the barriers, removing their masks to pay for merchandise and leaving them on the counters, he said. “It blew me away, the lack of concern.”

Mr. Cantine said he had also given up on wearing a mask inside his shop because his airbrush easel faced the wall, not customers.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 28, 2020

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.