Though unknowns remain, there appears to be some clarity developing on when the economic shutdown will begin to end. It’s not a definite, but closure mandates should be lifted within the next two weeks. It’s going to be a long and winding journey to normalcy, but matters are finally trending in a positive direction.
Under Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan outlined last Friday, it was made clear the two-week countdown to phase one of his COVID-19 “roadmap to recovery” was underway at that time. When asked Wednesday by a reporter if the couple days this week when hospitalizations and deaths jumped derailed the countdown, Hogan said he has not been swayed from his hopes of easing the restrictions, including lifting the stay-at-home order and allowing most retail stores to open with limitations, the first week of May.
“The plan we laid our last Friday did not call for a 14-day straight decline. That’s what the president called for, but most people are ignoring that and opening up anyway,” Hogan said. “Our plan called for 14 days of a pattern of plateauing out or flattening. We were starting to see that and now we’ve had a couple days of it going up. If it comes back down, we are not going to restart the clock. If we don’t continue to see a spike up, we are going to be in a good position to continue to make progress. It doesn’t have to be 14 consecutive days of going down. It’s not on the cases, it’s the hospitalizations, ICUs … we have had some slight upticks but it’s not shooting up. We are still hopeful we can level off and we can still move forward. Last Friday I said I was hopeful we could start to take a look at this in early May if the numbers were looking encouraging. Next week is early May so we will back talking with you all then once we have a chance to watch those numbers.”
It’s been interesting to observe Hogan through this pandemic. He has gained praise as well as criticism for his handling of the state. Many small business owners are critical of what they perceive as a blanket policy for the entire state when a more regional approach would be suitable to help stave off economic ruin for them. Unfortunately, this sort of approach would have allowed for more people movement over the last seven weeks, resulting in numbers on the shore spiking as is happening in metropolitan areas like Prince George’s County, for example. Hogan seems to know he is not beloved right now by everyone. He made some comments last Friday that seemed to be in response to criticism he has heard. Every Facebook post he makes these days is filled with comments of hate and ridicule.
“Even as we begin recovery, we can’t just flip a switch,” he said. “Life can’t go immediately back to normal. Throughout the recovery phases, we will need to continue to practice social distancing and limitations on the sizes of gatherings. … The entire focus of my administration has been growing the private sector, creating jobs, and turning Maryland’s economy around. That’s the reason I ran for governor and it breaks my heart to see so many Marylanders struggling so much right now. Our coronavirus response team has transitioned to a coronavirus recovery team. Other than keeping Marylanders safe and saving lives, absolutely nothing is more important than getting people back to work, rebooting our economy, and getting our small businesses reopened. We’re going to do everything we can to do that as quickly as possible in a safe and effective way.”
As the talks of recovery continue, many in the hospitality industry are preparing for what this “new normal” will look like for restaurants.
Aside from the many practical issues facing restaurants, such as heightened sanitary requirements and crafting spacing strategies to meet lower capacity allowances, many operators are trying to determine what exactly is the comfort level with customers about going out to eat as well as their financial wherewithal. Though they want to be open as soon as possible, they want to be responsible while also trying to determine what capacity they need to turn a profit. The question of getting their employees back to work is another unknown as many have become comfortable with weekly unemployment deposits from the state and federal governments.
Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones has been working hard to keep her membership updated on industry happenings during this closure. She sent out an email this week providing reopening checklists for hotels and restaurants. It’s going to be a complicated process for these operators requiring new sanitation practices, additional training for employees on compliance practices and greater communication between management, staff and customers.
In her email she wrote, “We’ve been working with the MD Department of Tourism and have representatives on the State industry task forces which were tasked with developing operational guidelines for a safe reopening. These groups submitted their notes and they are now in review by the Department of Commerce for the Governor. Obviously, we cannot flip the switch and magically you are ready to accept guests. Therefore, NOW is the time for you to plan — the official operational guidelines from the State will be coming in next couple of days and I’ll send those out immediately. We are stressing that a one size fits all approach is not going to work.”