Though it sounds too good to be true at this juncture, there are some exciting developments on the seasonal workforce housing front. The crisis will take years to address, but some behind the scenes work by local officials is now reached the point of public discussion.
The West Ocean City park-and-ride is a chronically underused space. The expansive lot is mostly used as a shortcut for residents avoiding summer traffic. There are some weekends when people do actually use it for parking and take advantage of the shuttle service into Ocean City, but it’s only during the biggest events a handful of times a year.
It’s the parking lot’s chronic underutilization that makes it a logical site for a potential workforce housing complex. The seasonal employees who could reside in the new housing would have access to mass transit or live close enough to town to safely bike or walk onto the island. At this point, the conceptual plan proposes three dormitory-style buildings on the property. The four-story structures would be able to accommodate about 1,000 seasonal workers, according to Holtz Builders of Wisconsin. The company has experience building and managing these sorts of projects. If it comes to fruition, it will surely help the ongoing labor crisis in Ocean City. While some unique pandemic factors have contributed to the worker shortages seen the last two years in Ocean City, the scarcity of housing cannot be understated as a major cause. There were many instances last spring when prospective job hunters with plenty of service industry opportunities never came to the area after not being able to secure housing.
Additionally, it was reported this week a 54-person seasonal housing building is under construction in downtown Ocean City on Dorchester Street. This project is obviously much smaller in nature than the grand plans under the Mayor and Council’s review this week, but it’s welcome news nonetheless. The beautiful facility will surely be gobbled up by seasonal workers in quick fashion next year.
There is a new normal for schools. Each day appears to be about managing the pandemic and the consequences imposed by health protocols. Pivot is once again the key word for health officials, teachers, students, administrators and families. As a parent to school-aged kids, I share in the sentiments expressed recently by families on the sidelines of my son’s middle school soccer game.
While we all expressed relief and pride about even being able to play other schools, each of us had our own quarantine horror stories to share. There is a pervasive stress looming over households regarding the dreaded call of a being a close contact and needing to quarantine. It’s one thing to get sick. The protocols are clear if symptoms arise. One must get tested and quarantine until the test results are obtained. If a kid is positive, the guidance is clear as far as moving forward dependent on vaccination status.
It’s not the positive test result that scares parents. The most difficult part of all this is being dinged as a close contact and needing to quarantine while healthy. It’s why masking is a must in school. Without a covering, per current protocols, there would be many more close contacts. Quarantine times can be cut if vaccinated with a negative test, but it’s inevitable kids will be relegated to home learning and be out of school for days. This means missed sports games and important school instruction and events. There is tremendous anxiety associated with the whole process. I just hope each day not to get a phone call with the dreaded news, but it appears to be inevitable at this rate.
A review of school statistics confirms one month in positive cases are happening on a routine basis in schools. As of the last update on Sept. 29, “outbreak-associated cases” – as the state refers to it — have occurred over the last week at the following Worcester County schools: Most Blessed Sacrament (three positive cases), Ocean City Elementary (two positive cases), Pocomoke High School (four positive cases), Seaside Christian Academy (four), Showell Elementary (11), Snow Hill High (six), Snow Hill Middle (17) and Worcester Preparatory School (five). As far as Wicomico County goes, as of Sept. 29, “outbreak-associated cases” have occurred at far less schools: James M. Bennett High (four), Parkside High (26), Prince Street Elementary (two) and Salisbury Christian (three).
Each of these positive cases comes with a host of quarantines, the lengths vary based on where and when the exposure occurred, mask wearing and vaccination status. For example, Carroll County’s dashboard reported this week 248 positive cases among students and teachers have resulted in 1,405 students being quarantined in the first month of school. School officials there are contemplating their own close contact quarantine rules, including no quarantine necessary unless a close contact develops symptoms or if a person was not wearing a mask at time of exposure. Health officials are not in favor of that change.
For years, parents of school-aged kids have fretted over raising them in the tech/social media age. Nowadays, technology’s concerns have been replaced by COVID-19 and the associated protocols in place governing their kids’ lives. All the while everyone is hoping to not get an incoming call from a “410-632” number anytime soon.