Since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Delaware 22 months ago, Tanesha Brady has made both patrons and stylists in her Wilmington hair salon wear masks. She also wears one when she shops.
So Brady has been discouraged in recent months as cases rose astronomically and hospitals began, as Gov. Carney put it this week, “bursting at the seams.
“It blows my mind, actually, the amount of people that still are not wearing their mask,’’ Brady said about what she has seen this fall and winter as cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed to unforeseen levels. “So I’ve seen people with them, but I’ve also seen more people than I would have expected without them.”
But Brady says she noticed an instantaneous change Tuesday morning, when Carney’s reinstituted indoor mask mandate went into effect. She says it’s about time people no longer had the option to go maskless into a grocery store, pharmacy, gym, restaurant or salon.
“It was absolutely necessary because if we ever want to get out of this hole that we’re in, people have got to do what we need to do. And if wearing a mask is what we need to do, then that’s what we need to do.”
Visits to multiple businesses in New Castle County this week found extremely high, if not absolute, levels of compliance at several establishments, including a Dollar Tree, Trader Joe’s, YMCA, pharmacy, supermarket, liquor store and a take-out eatery.
Brady spoke while picking up lunch at Honeybee Kitchen and Market in Wilmington’s Trolley Square. It’s a space where owner Karen Igou has long had this rule: No mask, No entry, No Exceptions. And you better cover your nose too.
Igou’s policy stayed in place even after Carney lifted his previous masking order in late May. Her stance hasn’t always endeared her to customers.
“We’ve definitely had a little bit of pushback,’’ Igou said. “I’ve definitely been cursed at. Yelled at. Had a mask thrown at me once, but I’ve gotten real good at showing people the door.”
Igou said she believes businesses have had the responsibility to protect employees and patrons alike but can’t disagree with Carney’s decision to make it mandatory, certainly during the worst surge of the coronavirus.
As of Friday morning, 759 people were hospitalized, 60% above the previous peak a year ago.
The current daily case count over the last week is 3,300. That’s an astronomical 280% higher than the old record last January. The daily count surpassed the old mark of 846 on Christmas Eve and has been accelerating rapidly each day since.
Consider that in March 2021, soon after Delaware had its first infection, Carney estimated that the state could have 3,000 total cases by the time the virus dissipated. The total is now 218,500 — more than 1 in 5 residents.
“It ain’t looking good,’’ Igou said. “So yeah, I guess it’s a good thing now that we have to do that, although it is hard on the businesses.”
‘We should have never pulled away from it’
The governor kept the indoor mandate for schools and government buildings in place when the previous order was lifted. He acknowledged this week that he had been reluctant to mandate masks even though hospital leaders urged him to do so as their facilities exceeded capacity in recent weeks.
He also said he doesn’t plan to keep it “one day longer” than he deems necessary. Although he didn’t implement stronger steps such as restricting indoor gatherings or closing business, as he had done earlier in the pandemic, the governor said he’s already hearing complaints from the business community.
Pamela Ward, an emergency medical technician from Kent County, was in Trolley Square to take her son to a medical appointment. She thinks Carney should have never lifted the mandate.
“I think we need it. I think we should have never pulled away from it,’’ Ward said. “I’m tired of them, but I want life to go back to normal, and I think the mask has helped keep the virus under control.”
At the Walgreens pharmacy near Honeybee, a dozen or so people inside were all masked up. Customer Ellen Louden says it’s proof that the mandate was necessary.
“They won’t do it unless you tell them to,” Louden said. “I have four kids in school and they all wear their mask and they never complain one bit, so they know they need to wear them to be safe.”
Nick Mancuso, the shift manager on duty, said he can’t order customers to put them on, though Carney’s rule also encourages merchants to post signage, offer masks to violators and provide options such as curbside service.
But Mancuso feels for health care workers.
“I know people that work in the hospitals,’’ he said. “I know how overwhelmed they’re getting. I think at the end of the day, masks do help.”
‘We got them in the car. But we keep forgetting’
Five miles west of Wilmington at a shopping plaza off Kirkwood Highway, the door at an Acme supermarket had a small sign that said masks are required.
Customer Sala Danboise said she and her husband are wholehearted supporters.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re fine with it,’’ she said. “I mean, you take care of each other. That’s what you’re supposed to do. I think some people don’t realize that you’re not wearing the mask for you, you’re wearing it for other people.”
Not everyone at Acme was in compliance, however.
One man without a mask huffed that he “didn’t know about” the rule, said no one in the store had flagged him, and dashed off without answering other questions.
Another man said it was in his pocket and slowly put one on.
Then there were William and Virginia Zickgraf, senior citizens who wandered around the Acme bare-faced.
When asked about it, William said it was an oversight.
“No, no, no, no. I agree with it, but we’re fully vaccinated and we’re boosted and all that,’’ he said. “Actually, we got them in the car. But you know what? I keep forgetting.”
Zadine Spencer is a home health aide who was masked while shopping at the Wilmington Walgreens.
She has a message for anyone who either refuses or lets the rule slip their mind while COVID rages across the state.
“Think of your families, think of your friends and loved ones. This is just a little of something that’s going to help everybody,” she said.
Ward, the downstate EMT, says she understands the reluctance and hates having to wear the mask.
“But it’s a small price to pay for freedom and to keep everybody healthy.”