To mask or not to mask: Frederick businesses weigh in on how they're handling the CDC guidance

·3 min read

May 19—Walking into Smoketown Brewing Creekside on Sagner Avenue last weekend, guests were greeted by a smiling staff.

For the first time in more than a year, they could actually see those smiles.

Owner Dave Blackmon said his staff is 100 percent vaccinated. Given the choice, all of his employees have gone unmasked. Many customers have, too.

Last Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that masks are no longer required in indoor or outdoor settings, except for schools, public transit and medical establishments. However, he allowed businesses to choose whether they would still require masks.

Many businesses, such as Smoketown, have opted to pass on the masks. Blackmon said his staff feels safe and ready to move forward.

"We've been watching the science like everyone else, daily, for 14 months," Blackmon said. "I think the governor handled it really well, and we agree that we're safe and it's time to take them off."

Other businesses, such as Jerk N' Jive Caribbean Kitchen on Prospect Boulevard and the Record Exchange on Market Street, are asking both staff and customers to continue wearing masks.

"We're not going to change anything right now. I think it's too early to just jump out ... and I understand that 70 percent of Americans have had at least one shot," said James Smith, owner of Jerk N' Jive. "My issue would be with making people uncomfortable who are coming in."

About 41.5 percent of Frederick County residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Frederick County Health Department.

At The Pasta Palette on North Market Street downtown, a sign on the door advised customers that masks were still required unless they were fully vaccinated.

For the most part, people have been OK with it, employee Pam Susa said.

At Zoe's Chocolate Co., Nicole Mehring said most customers have been OK with them still requiring masks, with only one or two people pushing back.

At the start of the pandemic, "there was definitely a learning curve" with people remembering masks, she said.

But they probably had a bigger problem with people not understanding the limits on capacity that were in place until recently, Mehring said.

On Friday afternoon, after the CDC announcement but before Hogan lifted the state mask mandate, The Record Exchange owner Sam Lock said his store would still require masks for the time being.

Lock had recently gotten his second shot and was waiting to become fully inoculated.

He'd had two or three customers come in that day without masks, but all immediately put one on when asked.

One man even went to a store next door and bought a mask, Lock said.

Still, other businesses are following the guidance from the CDC that allows fully vaccinated people to remove their masks in public places. Brewer's Alley on Market Street posted a sign on their door reading "Vaccinated customers can remove their masks."

But Brewer's employees are not going to ask if customers are vaccinated, said manager Elias Lazo. The hope is that people play by the honor system.

"So far it went well. We didn't have any issues," Lazo said. "We don't know if people are actually vaccinated or not, but that's up to them."

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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the staff at The Pasta Palette were not all fully vaccinated.

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