Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ought to leave the state where it is with reopening for another month. In fact, most in Ocean City seem content working under the restrictions in place currently given what’s happening in other areas including Delaware.
During a budget meeting this week, Hogan stressed vigilance was needed with the busiest holiday weekend of the year here. With the weather forecast ideal, Ocean City is going to see huge crowds. If the early weeks of the season are any indication, a large group of individuals are not going to be taking COVID-19 seriously. As Hogan mentioned, the immortal young people in their 20s are being shortsighted and only see their health as a concern. Hogan said, “In Maryland, restaurants and bars are open for seated service only at 50% capacity with strong physical distancing and sanitation protocols in place. Young people seem to feel bulletproof and many of them are ignoring the public health guidelines. The current infection rate among Marylanders under the age of 35 is now shockingly 52% higher than the rate of those who are 35 or older.”
Two parallel crises – public health and staffing — appear to be the major stories of the summer in Ocean City. These are the main talking points, as most businesses simply try to provide the best service possible while being cognizant of all the safety precautions they must follow in the best interest of their staff and customers.
First, there’s the safety issues associated with COVID-19 and the vehemence businesses are facing from customers when they try to enforce current restrictions, such as wearing facial coverings indoors and social distancing courtesy. Some visitors carry a tremendous disdain for these health recommendations and are reacting angrily to wait staff and other employees who encourage following the guidelines in place. Some businesses even say it’s a public safety matter in some cases because customers are threatening staff members, not just a health safety issues.
Secondly, Ocean City restaurants are already overwhelmed with 50 percent indoor capacity and outdoor dining due to critically low staffing. Some hotels are even not renting rooms all the time to allow some extra time for stretched housekeeping crews to get the job done in a safe fashion. The resort is learning first-hand how critical the foreign student workers are to the success of Ocean City. In some cases, I have heard stories of employees not showing up or threatening to walk out with an increase in pay demanded on the spot. It’s an incredibly difficult summer for most businesses. There’s no precedent for what’s happening this year, as operators and their staff are facing a perfect storm of impossible situations on busy days.
According to most operators I have been talking with off the record, they just want to continue on through the summer as is at this time. They are not wasting time worried about what the governor is going to do as far as reopening phases. Some fear increasing the capacity could put their staff’s health in jeopardy even if they could find more employees to handle the presumptive increase in business. At this point, the consensus seems to be to avoid going backwards and not seeing more restrictions.
For example, throughout this week, especially after Delaware rolled back some of its reopening efforts, messages from the tourism industry have stressed public awareness on safety protocols like masks and social distancing. On its Facebook page yesterday, Pickles Pub Ocean City wrote, “To our dearest friends and customers, we thank you for your continued patronage in this crazy time. Today we received a letter from our mayor and health department asking for all businesses to help keep OC open by enforcing the orders in place. Please help us by wearing a mask when standing and listening to our staff’s requests on social distancing. We desperately want to remain open for the remainder, but we need everyone’s help and cooperation to do so. Thank you all, you are amazing and once again stop stealing our damn hand sanitizers.”
It’s been an interesting migration with crime over the last few weeks. It’s largely happening away from the Boardwalk the last two weeks, as the large groups of individuals raising hell seemed to have dissipated for now. Nonetheless, there’s still serious crimes occurring but most appear to be domestic in nature and involving drugs and alcohol.
There were two stabbings last weekend and another attempted stabbing in a domestic incident. At least two police officers were assaulted, including one officer who had to be treated at the hospital after getting punched in the face twice by a 29-year-old Bowie man who stormed out of a group of individuals and surprised the officer with a sucker punch. Other serious offenses occurred as well, including an assault that took place Wednesday morning when three suspects jumped a group of people on 4th Street. The suspects are still being sought.
The point here is the crimes are still occurring, though not as high profile as a few weeks ago because they are not caught on video and posted online. It’s July now and it’s important these incidents remain a high-level concern at City Hall and not discounted as merely early-June concerns as has been done for years.