ANNAPOLIS, Md. — New mask-wearing requirements are going into effect Friday evening in Anne Arundel County Maryland, affecting crowded shopping and outdoor dining areas in downtown Annapolis.
The issue has sparked a new conversation about the risks of catching the COVID-19 virus in crowded outdoor areas.
Annapolis is distinguished by waterfront boardwalks and sidewalks that can be as narrow as 8 to 10 feet in some areas.
Mask-wearing shoppers told WUSA9 that summer crowds made it impossible to keep social distance in the downtown area.
“You’re going to pass people. It’s not feasible to stay super far away from people,” one shopper who declined to give her name said.
On Thursday, Anne Arundel County Executive Stuart Pittman announced the new order "requiring facemasks to be worn not only in public buildings, but also in outdoor spaces where six-foot social distancing from non-household members is not possible.”
The social media backlash was immediate.
“I will not wear a mask outside in the open, period,” wrote one of the 1,100 people who swarmed one Facebook post.
“Sorry, not buying into this political hoax," wrote another.
Anne Arundel County is not the first jurisdiction in the region with an outdoor mask requirement in crowded places.
Montgomery County also has one. The city of Greenbelt requires masks in its busiest park.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Linda Nabha said outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities, but case studies show the virus has spread at outdoor events, like a crowded barbeque.
"If you’re in a very busy area, and it's hard to maintain distance, certainly a mask is going to help prevent the spread of the infection," Nabha said. "The risk is much less than gathering inside, but it still doesn’t make your risk zero.”
According to Dr. Nabha, masks are not necessary for outdoor activities like walking, running, tennis or golf where people can keep their distance.
But she said large crowds in tight spaces is a risk that masks can help mitigate.