Kent County’s initial reopening has gone smoothly, officials said this week.
“We haven’t had any significant problems with that at least from the health department end of things,” William Webb, Kent County’s health officer, said Thursday.
“We’re getting a lot of calls about … best practices and what the guidance is for businesses that are looking to reopen. There’s certainly some confusion, especially with retail … because some retail establishments do not know what their fire code maximum is.”
A large number of people were in Rock Hall this past weekend, which is usually the date of a spring bike fest, but there were no problems, he said.
“They had a number of people show up…. Everybody was civil, (but many visitors) didn’t know that the restaurants weren’t open in Maryland.”
Webb said bars and restaurants are eager to start providing outdoor dining service, but the governor has not approved that yet.
“Everybody is anxious to get restarted,” he said.
During Monday’s Chestertown council meeting, Kay Macintosh, the town’s economic development and marketing coordinator, said downtown had been fairly busy over the weekend but there had been no complaints about people violating social distancing and mask requirements.
Macintosh and council members discussed options for allowing restaurants and bars to provide additional outdoor dining spaces once that is allowed by the governor.
Options could include allowing restaurants to place tables in front of neighboring businesses, with permission from those businesses; closing off parking spaces to create additional dining areas set off by wood decking and planters; and providing tables and chairs in public spaces for those getting takeout.
“To help restaurants survive, they will have to have enough tables to make this viable for them,” Macintosh said.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town had a pretty good framework with its al fresco dining ordinance.
The health department also has been working with the county’s faith-based communities, which is an area of particular concern to Webb due to “the high number of high-risk people who go to church services.”
“They have worked really, really hard to support the community and do the right thing and as a health department we want to help them do that,” he said.
The county now has 143 COVID-19 cases and at least 25 deaths. The vast majority of the cases and nearly all of the deaths are related to three outbreaks in the county — two in nursing homes and one among farm laborers. Those outbreaks account for about 88% of the county’s cases.
“We have three fairly substantial nursing homes in the county…. Unfortunately that’s the population that is hardest hit by the virus and even though they have tried very, very hard to keep it out … once it gets in with the residents and the staff it spreads like wildfire,” Webb said.
Although the county’s high numbers are driven by outbreaks, Webb stressed that the county does have cases of community spread and all residents should take precautions.
“I want to encourage all of our citizens to practice social distancing, masking and hand washing,” he said. “Take personal responsibility for helping prevent the spread of this because as we reopen … we know that as things open back up … our case counts are going to go up. Take personal responsibility, stay at home as much as possible and do the social distancing, the hand-washing all of the usual stuff and that’s what’s really going to help us get past this crisis.
“We stayed at home, we have given our health-care community the opportunity to prepare for the increased demand surge, and now it’s time to get back to business and hope that the preparations that we have done are going to be sufficient for whatever may come as a result of this.”