CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County is gradually rousing back to life after a six-week coronavirus hibernation.
With less than two weeks until the big tourist draw of Memorial Day weekend, the cautious reawakening planned for the days and weeks ahead are as welcome as the spring’s strengthening sunshine.
Starting next Thursday, hotels, motels and bed and breakfast lodging houses will be able to host guests again without requiring them to quarantine in place for 14 days.
“It’s definitely good news to see that,” said Tyler Tummolo, general manager of the Clarion Hotel in Harpers Ferry, of the state’s reopening activities with the official start of the summer holiday season approaching.
The Clarion is a sister company of the River Riders Family Adventure Resort in Harpers Ferry that has started preparations to reopen next week. Among the outdoor recreation businesses allowed to reopen, the resort complex has begun hiring back about 100 furloughed employees while beginning to book reservations for hotel guests, campers and rafting excursions, Tummolo said.
River Riders paddle boarding and other floating excursions on the Potomac River are gearing up, Tummolo said, and reservations are building for more vigorous rafting tours returning soon as well. The 100-room Clarion is also putting a virtual check-in system in place to support social distancing, he said.
This week, small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, barbershops and beauty salons, outdoor dining at restaurants can begin reopening. Professional service offices can resume taking appointments. And live-stream thoroughbred racing in Charles Town kicks off again Thursday, although without spectators in the stands.
All of the businesses and activities fluttering slowly back to life must continue to practice social distancing and follow health safety measures under Gov. Jim Justice’s less-restrictive Safer at Home order. And all workers should still continue to do their jobs at home, whenever possible.
So far, the only hitch for Jefferson County residents that differs from most other West Virginia jurisdictions falls under a special “hotspot” order, where a five-person limit on social and outdoor gatherings applies. The limit is 25 or fewer people for gatherings in most other counties in the state.
Shops and offices are still required to limit the number of customers in their establishments, continually sanitize public areas and create tethered off queue lines to maintain social distancing. Workers and residents are still asked to wear cloth face masks and regularly wash their hands.
On Monday, elective surgeries are scheduled to gradually resume at Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson. The Summit Point Motorsports Park has scheduled a motorcycle school for next Monday, but its events will still be for drivers only with no spectators.
Starting next Thursday, large specialty retail outlets such as Kohl’s and Marshalls in Ranson will be able to reopen under the governor’s phasing reopening plan. Restaurants can resume their indoor dining service up to half their full capacity.
Outdoor recreational venues such as campgrounds are taking reservations again, but they can only accommodate in-state residents for the moment. Tents and campers can appear again at state park campgrounds, but only for in-state residents for the moment.
Health officials were still awaiting word this week when the slots and gambling tables might come to life again at the Hollywood Casino, possibly the county’s largest employer with 1,300 workers and the largest revenue driver for local governments. News was still pending from the governor’s office on when crowds could return to the racetrack as well.
On April 3, Justice declared Jefferson County a coronavirus “hotspot” under an executive health emergency order. The governor’s order generally directs local health officials to impose stricter social distancing and health safety measures to avoid any new plume of contagion in the region.
County health officials last week acknowledged the lingering uncertainty and confusion over what businesses can reopen locally and under what restrictions according to the governor’s orders. However, unless the Jefferson County Board of Health puts additional restrictions in place, businesses would be allowed to reopen per the governor’s comeback plan.
“The governor said he’s the one that makes that designation, but there’s not a specific formula and they’re trying to come up with one,” acknowledged Dr. Terrence Reidy, the top health official for Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties. “But even that formula will have [localized] variations.”
“The orders for 55 counties, you can’t just treat them all the same,” he added.
Berkeley, Monongalia, Marion and Harrison counties are among the same tighter hotspot restrictions limiting non-essential travel and groups larger than five people.