Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made two big announcements this week. The first was allowing indoor dining at 50% capacity to resume along with outdoor amusements effective Friday at 5 p.m. By Tuesday, word had spread through the community this change was coming in Wednesday’s press conference. Therefore, this was not a big shock.
What was mildly surprising was the governor’s willingness to announce intentions for next week. Effective Friday, June 19 at 5 p.m. (I wonder each week why it can’t be 11 a.m. or 1 p.m., but maybe that’s just me), fitness centers, martial arts studios, casinos, arcades and indoor malls can reopen at half capacity. Though these operations are surely bummed they can’t open earlier, the announcement at least gives these businesses time to get their plans in place. In most cases, they probably already are geared up with health and safety concerns in mind, but nonetheless this represents a significant departure for the governor.
Over the last three months, Hogan has been reluctant to give out early word of his intentions before his press conference announcements. I was led to believe this week he was swayed by the private business sector’s concerns they need more time to adapt than 48 hours or less in most cases. It would seem to be right because some of the larger business owners in the area were spreading the word about the indoor restaurant change as early as Monday of this week.
Ocean City is going to find out what it’s like to not have foreign student workers this summer. By most accounts, the chances are nil Ocean City will see the arrival of any J-1 students this season. Even if the embassies in their home country begin functioning at normal levels, the general sense is health and safety concerns will keep the foreign workers home this summer.
As the resort begins to reopen, the realities of a severe workforce shortage are setting in. The struggle is real for many businesses, as the crowds are coming and the resources, namely the help, are not available at this time for most. The Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce sought the help of its membership this week to implore President Trump in a letter writing campaign to consider the J-1 program as a cultural exchange rather than a work program, which makes it included in any executive order not allowing employment-based immigration. The letter writing campaign is being led by the Alliance for International Exchange. I signed my name to the letter this week.
Portions of the letter read, “… cultural exchange programs such as Camp Counselor, Intern and Trainee, and Summer Work Travel combined contribute more than $1.2 billion to the American economy each year. By law, these participants do not displace American workers. For example, employers who participate in the Summer Work Travel program must recruit Americans first. When local communities re-open for business, the same set of needs for exchange participants are likely to emerge, as was the case after the economic challenges in 2008. … I respectfully request your Administration continue supporting international exchange programs by excluding them from any future executive actions suspending immigration. I am sharing copies of this letter with my representatives in Congress to ensure dialogue between both branches of government regarding these important programs.”
It’s too late for this summer most likely, but it’s a critical issue to keep on the radar for future seasons.
Concerts and other large gatherings, such as sports events, will likely be the last semblance of normal life to return. Depending on what scientist is being asked, these large-scale events could be paused until a vaccine program is in place for COVID-19. Consequently, it was expected The Freeman Stage in Selbyville would have to scrap their entire season, which typically features dozens of national acts.
In a press release, The Freeman Stage made it clear it’s looking to make the best of the 2020 season by bringing in local and regional acts who have basically been sidelined this season. Though there are a few places with live music in the area, most entertainers have found themselves without work. The Freeman Stage is hoping to help them.
“We’ve decided as an organization the arts need to be present during this time of reopening,” said Executive Director Patti Grimes. “Our Board of Directors supports the key tenets of our mission, which includes creating experiences that elevate the human spirit. We are going to do that by presenting the arts at a right-sized scale due to COVID-19. … As we navigate these unprecedented times, safety has always been our No. 1 priority so we’re using this pod approach to give people some freedom while still being able to maintain physical distance,” she said. “While we have limited space, we have a beautiful lawn and consider ourselves fortunate to be a presenter this season as many of our fellow arts organizations are unable to do so.”
Hosting the events in a safe manner is important for the stage. The press release reported tickets will be sold in groups, or pods, with fixed seating for four provided in each pod. The season will start out with a seating capacity of just under 400 and will be periodically evaluated as the season progresses to determine if any adjustments are warranted.