Delaware’s face-covering mandate took effect Tuesday, meaning that masks and cloth face coverings will be part of everyday life here for the foreseeable future.
Under an order by Gov. John Carney, a face covering is required during most situations when people are out in public.
“Now is not the time for Delawareans to get complacent,” Carney said while announcing the new rule in a prepared statement Saturday. “We face a very serious situation, with additional cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations statewide. All of our actions are guided by science, and intended to save lives.”
On Tuesday, it appeared most Newark residents had gotten the message, as masks were a common sight at grocery stores and along Main Street.
The order applies to anyone patronizing a business, including, but not limited to, grocery stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, laundromats and restaurants, both inside the business and when waiting in line outside. It also applies to those visiting a medical office or using public transportation, including taxis and ride-share services like Uber and Lyft.
The requirement also applies to people in outdoor public areas like parks and golf courses, if maintaining social distancing of six feet isn’t practical. People who are feeling sick, coughing or sneezing must cover their face at all times when in public.
Starting Friday, businesses are required to post signs informing customers of the requirement and must refuse entry to customers who won’t cover their face, unless the customer has a medical reason for not doing so.
Businesses must require employees to cover their faces when working in public or within six feet of other employees. Masks and hand sanitizer must be provided by the employer.
The mask requirement applies to everyone 12 or older. State officials noted that while younger kids can choose to cover their face, those under 2 should not do so due to the risk of suffocation.
“Wearing a face covering in public settings is important to prevent transmission of this disease. But wearing a face covering is not permission to go out in public more often,” Carney said. “Delawareans should stay home unless it's absolutely necessary to go out for essential work or essential items. Don't go out in public unnecessarily. You will only increase your risk - and the risk to your family, friends, and neighbors.”
Carney urged Delawareans to use cloth face coverings and reserve medical-grade masks for use by health care workers and first responders. Scarves and bandannas satisfy the requirement as long as they cover the mouth and nose.
Under the civil defense provisions of Delaware code, violators of Carney’s order can be fined up to $500 or imprisoned for up to six months, but officials said they are primarily relying on voluntary compliance.
The Newark Police Department is reminding business owners to enforce the requirement at their establishments.
“If the business attempts to enforce it and the person refuses to leave, we’d get involved,” NPD spokesman Lt. Andrew Rubin said.
However, the department does not intend to do proactive enforcement or handle complaints of someone not wearing a mask in public.
“I don’t foresee us responding just to a call of someone not wearing a mask,” Rubin said. “That’s just taking up police resources.”
Meanwhile, NPD has instructed its officers to wear masks anytime they deal with the public. Officers were issued surgical masks for normal calls, as well as the more protective N95 respirator masks for when they are dealing with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms or assisting with a high-risk medical call, such as CPR.