Ambiguous Wharf Sign Draws Community Concern

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Signs, which have since been taken down, at The Wharf Wednesday evening. Photo: Madeline Morcelle.

Concerned residents took to Twitter Wednesday evening to express concern about an apparent mask ban at the Wharf.

The large black sign, which has since been removed, stated that “no masks are allowed anywhere on District Wharf property,” drawing concerns among the public amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Madeline Morcelle, JD, MPH, a health justice lawyer with chronic conditions first tweeted about the signs Wednesday evening, prompting others to express concern and criticism in the comments.

The sign, which gave no direct reference to Halloween, appeared to Morcelle and many others as a face mask ban in the community. Morcelle said she was “heartbroken but not surprised” to see what appeared to be ableism occurring in her own neighborhood.

As an immunocompromised individual, Morcelle said the pandemic presents unique challenges.

“We are best protected when we are up to date on our vaccines, yet mounting research suggests that overall protection from the vaccines is lower for immunocompromised people compared to vaccine effectiveness for others,” Morcelle said. “So we are dependent on the people around us to engage in evidence-based protective measures and help keep us safe.”

The Wharf issued a statement clarifying that the signs were intended for the upcoming Halloween weekend.

“We apologize for the poor phrasing of our recent mask signs,” the statement reads. “Health and safety are The Wharf’s top priorities. The intention was to discourage Halloween masks for the safety of all residents and visitors. The signs have since been removed.”

Morcelle said businesses should be wary about how policies are conveyed to the public, regardless of their intent.

“Businesses can avoid making similar mistakes in the future by considering how, regardless of their intent, their messaging could cause harm to underserved communities,” Morcelle said. “Our health, safety, and survival shouldn’t be an afterthought.”

Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com.