OCEAN CITY — A reopening and resumption of services memorandum prepared by the city manager early this week raised eyebrows with some of its predicted phased dates.
Prior to Tuesday’s Mayor and Council work session, a memorandum outlining some key reopening dates based loosely on the state’s roadmap to recovery released last week was included in the agenda packet and was quickly circulated publicly. City Manager Doug Miller’s memorandum follows Gov. Larry Hogan’s three-phased economic recovery plan. Perhaps the most ominous statement in the memo suggests the hope is July 4 could be the new Memorial Day and July, August and September will resemble typical seasons.
When the memo was presented to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, the majority of the elected officials agreed with the plan’s contents, but not necessarily with the timeline.
“With COVID-19 we are forced many times to make decisions based on incomplete information, speculative information or no information at all,” Miller’s memo reads. “Such is true when trying to schedule the resumption of our typical summer services. Based on what we know and admittedly based on what we hope for, there will be a season in 2020 even if different from what we have known in the past.”
Miller’s memo outlines the three stages in Hogan’s recovery plan released last week. The memo said the town is currently in the pre-stage with the state’s stay-at-home order still in place. Under the “low risk” stage one, small shops and businesses can reopen and recreational boating, fishing, golf and tennis can resume. The memorandum suggests the town’s hope is to be at stage one in late May or early June.
Under the medium-risk stage two, indoor gyms and fitness classes can begin, churches can have services and restaurants and bars can open with restrictions. According to the memo, the town hopes to be a stage two by late June or early July.
Under high-risk stage three, larger social gatherings will be allowed, high capacity bars and restaurants will be allowed to open and entertainment venues and some private and public planned events will be allowed to go on. However, Miller’s memo suggests Ocean City won’t likely reach that stage this summer.
“To get to this stage, there must be a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment,” he said. “That is a long way off, so we don’t see us at stage three this season. Until we get to stage three, large social gatherings will not be allowed, high capacity bars and restaurants will not be allowed to open and entertainment venues will not be allowed to operate. For the summer of 2020, some of the private and public planned events will have to be altered or cancelled.”
Whether the state’s stage three relies on finding a vaccine or treatment of the virus was later disputed. However, all of the assumptions about COVID-19 being part of any plan for a summer season are true, including continued social distancing and limited capacity restrictions on bars and restaurants and other places groups gather.
Much has been made about the thousands of non-resident property owners and when they can or should safely return to their summer or second homes. Of course, many already have at different points during the crisis, but the memo suggests they will come back in droves when the restrictions are relaxed.
“Our non-resident property owners will enthusiastically return to Ocean City once the state travel restrictions are lifted,” the memo reads. “They will not be dissuaded by the reduced availability of restaurant services and will be able to bring their own food or use the carryout services of the restaurants that offer such services. We predict that most will visit Ocean City for Memorial Day as they traditionally do.”
The memo also predicts far less than typical early summer rentals regardless of where Ocean City and the state are in the recovery phase.
“May and June hotel reservations will be less than typical years because the restaurants will only offer partial services,” the memo reads. “Hopefully in July, August and September, the restaurants will operate at near normal levels. We will have no conventions until July …”
The city manager’s reopening timeline memo includes a plan to begin ramping up essential town services by Memorial Day.
“We do intend to offer our normal summer services even if some are altered,” the memo reads. “To do that, we must make plans to bring them on board and also hire the needed staff to provide these services. We know that we will not be able to precisely match service need to staff as we traditionally do because we do not know when we will see the number of visitors that we are accustomed to.”
For example, the plan is for the beach patrol to start on Memorial Day weekend and is expected to have a complement of lifeguards available as Memorial Day weekend last year.