OCEAN CITY — As the peak season hits its midpoint in what is an unprecedented summer, some businesses in the resort over the last week have closed entirely or altered their operations voluntarily out of caution for their guests and staff.
Over the course of the last week or so, a handful of resort businesses have closed for a couple of days or reverted back to an outdoor dining and carryout model for a variety of reasons. In some cases, one or more staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and the temporary closures allow them to get other staff tested and do a deep cleaning of the facilities.
In other cases, restaurants and bars hitting the pause button for a couple of days to give their beleaguered staff a brief respite and to deep clean their facilities and get ready for the stretch run through the rest of July and August. In either case, the temporary closures are proactive and precautionary for the most part and some affected businesses are already reopened or will be shortly. The subject was broached at Monday afternoon’s Ocean City Tourism Commission meeting.
“We’ve seen a lot of our restaurants shutting down temporarily or suspending the indoor portion of their operations,” said Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones. “For the most part, they’re doing it voluntarily as a precautionary measure. They want to keep their guests safe and keep the staff safe and give people a chance to breathe.”
Most of the resort’s restaurants are closely following the state-mandated directives with employees wearing masks, physically distancing tables and other seating areas and sanitizing tables and chairs and all surfaces after each use. Some are pushing the envelope a little with their precautionary measures and practices.
Jones said it has to be a two-way street with both the businesses and the guests doing their part to meet the directives and safe practices. It’s no secret there has been some push-back from visitors who aren’t following the rules and wearing masks, for example.
“One part of it in some cases are the guests,” she said. “A lot of people come to Ocean City and think it’s a COVID-free zone. They aren’t wearing masks and aren’t practicing distancing. We really have to get the message out to the public.”
Jones said the message should be reinforced constantly on the town’s website, advertising and various social media platforms along with a concerted effort by the private sector. She suggested putting a mask on the marlin statue at the entry park near the foot of the Route 50 Bridge and on the giant pirate at Jolly Roger’s and anywhere else that would be appropriate and help spread the word.
Jones also said the hospitality labor force has to be cognizant of following the directives and wearing masks and limiting contact as much as possible as well, especially outside of work.
“A lot of people get off work after a long, hot day and mingle together with their co-workers, or with roommates and friends that work at other establishments,” she said. “They also need to be aware of wearing masks and using precautions.”
Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino cautioned the public’s perception of the situation isn’t always meeting the reality.
“I was talking to someone this morning and they said 12 of our restaurants are closed down,” he said. “That’s simply not true. The rumors hurt us. We need to stifle those rumors. Maybe one actually got closed down by the health department, but the rest are just being precautionary.”
Mayor Rick Meehan during Monday’s tourism commission meeting echoed some of those sentiments.
“Our restaurants are really being proactive and taking measures to protect their guests and employees,” he said. “We need to ask our visitors when they go into the restaurants to be patient and courteous because they’re understaffed and they’re dealing with issues they don’t normally have to deal with in these unusual times.”
Later on Monday evening, Meehan issued a formal statement on the precautionary and temporary closure of some of the resort’s restaurants.
“The town of Ocean City continues to follow Governor Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery and we have no plans to change our direction,” he said in the statement. “We are working closely with our business partners and health department to ensure the safety of employees and guests.”
Meehan emphasized with maybe one exception, the restaurants and bars those chose to close temporarily did so as a precaution and to give their staff a midsummer break.
“Most restaurants that recently closed did so proactively in an abundance of caution, or to provide their staff with some much-needed time off,” he said. “We ask everyone to be kind to one another and show patience to employees and businesses who are operating with a very limited workforce. These are difficult times, but we commend our community for continuing to step up, be proactive and take the steps necessary to protect the public during the height of our summer season.”
In the statement, Meehan urged the public to do their part in following the directives and taking personal responsibility.
“As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters, we remain committed to partnering with our local businesses, the health department and the state of Maryland,” he said. “Please continue to take personal responsibility to protect yourself and those around you be practicing physical distancing and by wearing masks as a precaution in public.”
Again, in some cases establishments that chose to close temporarily or alter their operations did so voluntarily. In some cases, businesses had one or more staff members test positive for COVID-19 and are going through the process of getting their entire staff tested and deep-cleaning their facilities.
For example, Fish Tales had three staff members test positive and is currently going through that process. The Purple Moose had two staff members test positive and is also closed until the entire staff can be tested and the facilities can be sanitized. Similarly, Blu Crab House and Raw Bar had a member of the staff test positive while others are awaiting test results and will reopen when that process is complete.
In other cases, a handful of restaurants and bars did not have any positive COVID tests among staff members, but took a temporary break to allow staff to catch their collective breath and are already reopening. That short list includes the Bull on the Beach at 2nd Street and Buxy’s Salty Dog and Dry Dock 28.
Still others have chosen to go back to an outdoor dining and carryout model only and have, at least temporarily, moved away from any indoor dining or bar service. That list, as of midweek, included the Crab Bag, the Crabcake Factory in Ocean City, along with the Rice House and Buck’s Place in West Ocean City.