On a sweltering early Friday afternoon, the dining room of Gilligan’s Pier Seafood & Steakhouse located in Newburg, Md. is uncommonly empty. By noon the popular bar and restaurant on the Potomac are usually bustling with life — but today is different.
Beyond the vacant tables, Art Jolliffe, the owner of the restaurant, sits in the back at his computer composing a notice to place on his front door — a notice that several local restaurants gratefully removed over a month ago.
The sign reads: “Gilligan’s Pier will not enforce [the mask mandate] if you are offended please find another place to dine. Thanks for your cooperation.”
On Friday evening, Aug. 13, Charles County’s mask mandate went into effect, which holds local businesses accountable for enforcing the policy requiring staff and patrons to wear their masks inside their establishments.
However, many business owners in Charles County are reluctant to enforce the new policy in fear that it will drive many of their customers away from their respective businesses and put owners in a situation that could potentially harm businesses still recovering from the financial strain of Covid-19.
“I’m not going to be the cop; ‘You got to put that on. You got to leave,’ I’m not doing that. They’ve hurt us enough,” Jolliffe said.
And Jolliffe isn’t the only business owner who is concerned about the reinstated mask policy. After it was announced, local entrepreneur and restaurateur, Iossif Gressis, took to social media to speak out against the requirement, which forces businesses into the awkward position of having to police the mandate.
“I will not turn away customers, confront anyone to put on a mask or ask anyone to leave my establishment because they won’t wear a mask. That is not our job,” Gressis said in a Facebook post.
Gressis owns several restaurants in Charles County, including Lucianna’s Steakhouse, Galazio Restaurant, and OBO Pizza, and considers customer service to be a top priority for maintaining the success of his businesses. Having to ask those who patron one of Gressis’ restaurants to comply with the mask mandate is not only harmful to the core values of his business but also drives customers away.
“I’m not going to argue with customers because… sometimes they think it’s rude and they leave your establishment, and at this point, it’s hard enough to get customers in the door,” Gressis said.
The decision to reinstate the mask mandate in Charles County was done at the recommendation of the Charles County Department of Health after they noticed a significant spike in cases. The rise in cases accompanied by the increase in hospitalizations and the low percentage of citizens who have been vaccinated ultimately prompted this latest Covid-19 restriction.
“Charles County is among the counties with the highest case rate per [100,000 people]. Our case rate is as high as it was in mid-February and is higher than the peak in the spring,” according to a statement provided by the Charles County Department of Health. “This mandate is an attempt to prevent having to put some of the more stringent restrictions back in place.”
Charles County is one of several counties requiring masks to be worn in public indoor spaces. While Calvert County and St. Mary’s County aren’t requiring masks, except for in St. Mary’s County Public Schools, businesses fear that their customers will travel and take their business to other counties that don’t require masks.
“If St. Mary’s County remains mask-free, I will not be doing anything in Charles County, and I will go to St. Mary’s County,” Kayleen Edwards, the owner of Estate Escape LLC said.
When Covid-19 hit, both Edwards’ life and business took a big blow forcing her to empty her retirement savings to keep afloat. After her business endured shutdowns, social distancing, occupancy limitations, and mask mandates, Edwards refuses to go backward with this latest Covid-19 restriction.
“It’s almost like we’re playing Simon Says in the United States,” Edwards said.
If the Charles County Department of Health receives a complaint about a business not complying with the mask mandate, the first course of action will be to provide the business with educational resources and provide them with “advice on overcoming any identified barriers,” according to the Charles County Department of Health.
If the business fails to observe the mask mandate, they will be referred to the Charles County Sheriff’s Office where they can be subject to a potential shutdown. Additionally, individuals who are found to not be in accordance with county guidelines can face a penalty of one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
On Aug. 11, the Council of the Town of La Plata announced that La Plata would not enforce the mask mandate but recommends that masks be worn in indoor spaces for the good of public safety.
The mask mandate will be in effect for Charles County until it expires Sunday, Sept. 12 at 4:59 pm.