(May 22, 2020) Worcester County has begun the gradual reopening process in hopes of restoring the tourism-based economy, as most of the county’s revenue sources have been closed or are operating at limited capacity since the end of March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan moved Maryland into phase one of reopening when he lifted the stay-at-home order and allowed retail establishments to open at half capacity. Ocean City and Worcester County governments both lifted the ban on short-term rentals.
Kathryn Gordon, economic development director for Worcester County, reiterated that the pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard. More than 7,000 county residents have filed for unemployment since the beginning of March.
For the week ending on May 9, there were 424 regular unemployment insurance claims, 224 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims and 65 Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims.
Gordon said unemployment filings have been slowing down, as businesses begin to reopen. Another factor is applicants struggling to file successfully, she said.
“My office has received, and so has other departments within Worcester County, have received phone calls from residents that are having an issue with either filing their unemployment or getting ahold of someone at the department of labor,” Gordon said.
On April 24, the Maryland Department of Labor launched the BEACON One-Stop unemployment application for residents to apply online around the clock for all claims and weekly certifications. But the system crashed when thousands of Marylanders seeking unemployment benefits flooded the system at once.
The department has rolled out numerous improvement strategies, but many applicants say they still either still can’t file or haven’t received benefits.
Gordon said she sees a silver lining as the community supports local businesses and those businesses adapt to Hogan’s guidelines.
“Quite a few businesses have made an online presence that wasn’t there before to be able to offer their products or their services to their customers,” Gordon said.
Even though half capacity for retail stores may not still not be ideal for all businesses, Gordon said any level of reopening will be beneficial.
“Being able to be there for their customers is exactly what they’re looking for,” Gordon said.
She added that the economy will improve with the slow phasing in of the different stages of recovery from Hogan.
“I know a lot of the hotels are beginning to accept reservations and our businesses are still preparing for that next phase of reopening for seating, either indoor or outdoor,” Gordon said. “I say, as long as we continue to prepare for those phases, we’ll be in good shape.”
She said that the Maryland Department of Commerce website has a set of guidelines for businesses reopening. Gordon advised businesses to “follow the guidelines that they have in place for sanitizing the work area, the work environment, whether it’s a restaurant, and making sure that there is the proper social distance between the customers.”
She praised Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, for working with the business community to prepare.
“With the recovery, Worcester County is ready to go when we are able to open up,” Gordon said.
Visit the business guidelines at open.maryland.gov/backtobusiness/.