States enter various stages of reopening process with summer on the horizon
Editor’s note: Much of the nation has been shut down over the past two-plus months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the economy is reopening, and businesses of all types are quickly ramping up for what they hope will be a busy summer season that will return them to some sense of normalcy. To help mark the reopening and tell the positive, meaningful stories of how we’re all rebuilding after a very uncertain time, today we’re launching the first part of an ongoing weekly series titled “Reopening.” Each week we’ll delve into a different aspect of the reopening, how local businesses are dealing with it and the positive impact it’s having on our communities. The first installment focuses simply on a state-by-state look, across nearly one-third of the nation, of where we are in the reopening process.
While the national toll for deaths related to COVID-19 eclipsed 100,000 last week, states across the country currently find themselves in various stages of their respective reopening plans, which has proven to be a sign of optimism from local leaders that the outbreak is trending in a positive direction.
In Iowa, a partial reopening of the state took place on May 1, when restaurants, gyms and some non-essential retailers were able to reopen, albeit with some social distancing guidelines in place. Today, more businesses, including speedways, casinos, amusement parks, bowling alleys and more, will be able to reopen.
David Fierke, city manager of Fort Dodge, said he believes the public sentiment has relaxed recently, even as the number of COVID-19 cases in Webster County is on the rise. In early May, Webster County had eight cases. As of Wednesday, there were 40.
“We were more in lockdown mode when the county had like two to three to five cases,” Fierke said.
Though cases are up — possibly due to increased testing, according to Webster County Public Health Director Kari Prescott — Fierke said Iowans have been good at social distancing, and that he believes in the resiliency of the population.
Gov. Tim Walz is allowing restaurants, bars, hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors to reopen today as long as the businesses practice social distancing, wear masks and abide by reduced occupancy requirements. Retail establishments were allowed to reopen on May 18 at 50 percent capacity. Gyms, fitness studios, and public entertainment venues including museums, zoos, concert halls, race tracks, and bowling alleys are still prohibited from opening.
Fairmont, Minnesota, Area Chamber of Commerce President Ned Koppen said Walz calls his reopening plan “adjusting the dials.” Koppen noted that it’s a positive step to allow for reopening of restaurants, but that some small business owners cannot afford to open at 50 percent capacity.
“A lot of them are not opening,” he said, stating that they told him, “We’re not going to open to lose money.”
Koppen added that the public and business owners alike are ready to find out what “the new normal” looks like.
“People are getting antsy,” he said. “And they want our economy to get back to a normal kind of doing business.”
In Kansas, the power of managing the reopening process shifted from Gov. Laura Kelly’s hands to that of individual health departments on May 26.
Kelly had a four-phase reopening plan in place. As of May 26, Kansas was in phase two of that plan, which limited social gatherings to 15 people and required some at-risk businesses to stay closed.
But because Kelly felt she had “no choice” but to veto a bill on May 26 that would have limited her powers to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s emergency disaster declaration expired at midnight on May 26, and with it, Kelly’s phased plan to gradually reopen the state ended, too. Going forward, counties in the state will have the option to comply with the plan or issue their own local orders, rather than following executive orders from the governor’s office.
In Douglas County, Kansas, the Unified Command COVID-19 response team agreed to adopt Kelly’s phase two as part of a local health order.
“This gives people of Douglas County the message that we’re going to stick with the current public health measures to guard against the spread of COVID-19 as part of a phased reopening, and we think it’s a good plan that is working in our area,” said Dr. Thomas Marcellino, the Douglas County health officer.
North Dakota was never under a stay-at-home order, but many businesses were closed until “North Dakota Smart Restart” allowed them to reopen May 1. Businesses like bars, restaurants, gyms, hair salons and tattoo shops were able to open under guidelines to limit the number of people, maintain six feet between one another and cleaning protocols.
Currently, restaurants are limited to 50 percent capacity while movie theaters are operating at 20 percent capacity. For other event venues, facilities may operate at 50 percent of their normal occupancy, but are capped at 250 people.
Gov. Doug Burgum has also allowed for graduation ceremonies to be held using school facilities with proper social distancing, cleaning and safety precautions. Schools in the state will be able to host summer school, driver’s education and other activities starting today, but schools may continue distance learning.
The Keystone State is in the process of reopening based on positive case numbers, which are still high in more densely populated regions. Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan consists of red, yellow and green phases.
There remain 10 counties in the southeastern part of the state that are still in the red phase, which is the most restrictive. The majority of the state, including Washington County, is in the yellow phase, which lightens the restrictions. Retail shopping, for instance, is allowed in the yellow phase, but only under certain guidelines.
In the green phase, restaurants, salons, gyms, theaters, shopping malls and casinos may open at 50 percent capacity with social distancing restrictions.
Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said that if businesses want to move into the green phase, the social distancing measures and “healthy practices” that they’ve been maintaining the last two months will need to continue. He said customers will want to feel safe when they begin patronizing businesses again.
“We understand that businesses, especially small businesses, are eager to reopen and welcome their customers back,” Kotula said. “And while that is the ultimate goal, we have counseled our businesses to open based upon customer demand for their products and services. This may take some time as customers need to feel safe to patronize businesses again, but it will be beneficial to both the business and customers in the long-term.”
Virginia is in phase one of its “Safe at Home” plan, which means that retail stores can open with restrictions, restaurants may open for outdoor seating or takeout, and beaches may be used for exercise or fishing. Childcare facilities may open and churches may operate at 50 percent capacity. Salons and barbers may also open by appointment, with social distancing and sanitization protocols in place.
“For hairstylists, if we’re not behind the chair, we don’t make money,” said Kelly Degear, owner of Village 9 salon in Leesburg, Virginia. “We’ve been without income since March.”
Degear said she planned to open her salon this past Friday. It will be much slower than they’re used to working, she said, as only one client per stylist can work at a time.
“We want to work but we have to make sure we’re being safe about it,” she said.
Businesses across the Buckeye State have reopened via the “Responsible RestartOhio” plan, and Gov. Mike DeWine lifted the mandatory stay-at-home order May 19.
Manufacturing and distribution companies and retail services have reopened, but staff is required to wear face coverings, conduct daily health assessments and maintain cleaning procedures.
On May 26, gyms and fitness centers were allowed to reopen and baseball and softball teams will be allowed to play, as long as they follow guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Health.
Child care providers and day camps could reopen Sunday with reduced numbers of children. Catering and banquet facilities may open again today and are limited to 300 guests with similar guidelines to restaurants.
Justin Phillips, owner of Six More Miles Tattoo Saloon in Norwalk, Ohio, said when his shop was shut down, he received no government assistance, so he welcomed the ability to reopen with open arms.
“It’s a breath of fresh air and a relief,” he said. “We needed this, our families needed this. Every business needs to do their part to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis’s reopening plan is in phase one, which reopened much of the state’s businesses. Beaches, parks, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, salons and retail shops are all open, under many restrictions relating to building capacity and social distancing guidelines.
Vacation rentals, theme parks, bars and nightclubs, which typically boost tourism across the state, are expected to open with restrictions next month, under phase two of the plan.
Vacation rentals will be limited to in-state reservations and theme parks will be limited to 50 percent capacity. Also in phase two, retail stores, restaurants and gyms will be bumped back up to 75 percent capacity.
Utah has color-coded phased guidelines for the state. Those include red (high risk), orange (moderate risk), yellow (low risk) and green (new normal risk). On May 16, Gov. Gary Herbert and the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission moved all areas of the state – save for three counties and three cities – to the yellow (low risk) stage.
In the low risk stage, guidelines include that pools may be open, churches may have services, schools may open and team sports may be played. In all cases, it is recommended that people remain six feet apart and wear face coverings in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Team sports with close contact are to be engaged in cautiously.
Nic Dunn, director of public policy and business development with the Provo Chamber of Commerce, said the Utah Valley business community is “definitely” ready to open, but they hope to do so safely.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm about reopening the economy, but again, we want to do it in a way that is safe,” he said.
He added that he feels Utah has not had to be as restrictive as other states.
“It’s very much a community-driven response,” Dunn said of Utah’s response to COVID-19. “It’s not a heavy-handed government response.”
West Virginia continues its reopening this week, as the Mountain State enters week six of Gov. Jim Justice’s comeback plan.
The state’s five casinos are allowed to open this Friday. Over this past weekend, pools, limited video lottery operations and other businesses saw their first opportunity to open since March.
Also last week, museums and visitor centers could reopen, along with state park cabins and lodges – for in-state visitors only – and bars, with capacity reduced by 50 percent.
Wayne Waldeck, co-owner of the Blennerhassett Hotel in downtown Parkersburg, West Virginia, said the lounge opened Thursday to go along with indoor dining, which resumed with a reduced capacity and tables spaced so that chairs were six feet apart when pulled out.
Waldeck said he’s been surprised with the amount of customers they’ve seen since reopening, which he attributes to safety practices like servers wearing masks and gloves. A different employee clears the table or, if that’s not possible, the server puts on an additional pair of gloves “so there’s never any cross-contamination,” he said.
“People are bringing (older) mothers and fathers in because … they feel safe,” Waldeck said.
The hotel has been offering outdoor dining for weeks, and it remains popular with the weather warming up, Waldeck said. But he noted cooler temperatures didn’t exactly discourage people either.
“It was colder than blazes a couple nights but … people just wanted to get out,” he said.
While the hotel side of the business took a hit when travel restrictions were in place, Waldeck said they’ve recently had guests from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio spending Friday and Saturday nights.
“On the weekend, we’re really booking up,” he said, suggesting the lack of a high number of cases in Wood County, West Virginia, may make people feel better about traveling to the area. “We’ve been delighted.”
When Waldeck and Lee Rector announced their purchase of the hotel last fall, they highlighted plans to establish a world-class spa at the site.
“We were all ready to go” when the pandemic started slowing and shutting activity down, he said. “Now that we’re reopened, it’s back on the front burner.”
With the exception of New York City, the rest of New York has entered phase one of reopening under statewide guidelines, allowing non-essential businesses in the fields of construction, agriculture, manufacturing and wholesale trade to resume operations.
Retail activities are limited to pick-up and drop-off. The state has issued mandatory guidelines and recommended best practices for all of the affected businesses.
The western region of the state is expected to enter phase two on Tuesday, which will allow retail establishments to open with limits on occupancy, along with professional and administrative services, real estate and rental and leasing, said Todd Tranum, president and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s really important to our economy and to our workforce to get folks back into the workplace and getting money circulating back into the economy,” he said.
Chautauqua County’s unemployment rate jumped from 6.1 percent in March to 15.5 percent in April as businesses reduced services or closed down as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Phase one allowed the county’s largest private employer, the Cummins engine plant in Jamestown, to start increasing its capacity again. This week, it’s hoped smaller businesses like Dot’s Gift Boutique and a variety of music shops can welcome customers back inside, Tranum said.
Like other states, New York’s continued reopening is contingent upon positive trends in infection and hospitalization rates. Tranum said businesses and customers must remain diligent with safety precautions to make that happen.
“We cannot afford to slip back,” he said.
Twenty-three of 24 counties in Maryland have entered or announced plans to enter stage one of “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery.” That includes resuming outdoor dining and other outdoor activities like youth sports, day camps and pools, while continuing to follow public health guidance.
The statewide guidelines are being implemented on a community-by-community basis, according to a recent news release from Gov. Larry Hogan, who warned that COVID-19 “is still very much a deadly threat, and our responsible behavior is absolutely critical in the continued efforts to defeat it.”
If positive, data-based trends continue, Hogan said the state will be poised to move on to stage two, which involves lifting the executive order that closed non-essential businesses.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on May 22 extended her stay-at-home order to June 12 for the lower parts of the state. Effective May 22, northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula restaurants and retail shopping establishments were able to open with social distancing and occupancy restrictions in place. Theaters, gyms, salons and casinos still remain closed statewide.
Iron Mountain Mayor Dale Alessandrini said in the U.P., the cases are very few and as long as people abide by social distancing guidelines and wear masks, things should be opening up. He said he has mixed feelings about the opening guidelines, which allow bars in the northern portion of the state to open, but not barbers.
“You go into a bar, and there’s people in there, right next to each other, but yet, you can’t go into the salon and get your hair done,” Alessandrini said. “So some of it, I think, is unnecessary. The salons should probably be open because they take the precautions with face masks and shields. Yet when you walk into a bar, there’s no precautions taken.”
As the owner of a greenhouse, he and his employees have been abiding by safety protocols, wearing masks and sanitizing surfaces frequently.
He said areas like tennis courts are being opened because they are played at a reasonable distance, unlike contact sports such as basketball.
“I agree with the gyms not being opened, because there’s a lot of touching,” he added.
Gov. David Ige has been working with county mayors on a phased reopening plan with social distancing precautions in place. Timelines for opening are determined by county officials and must be submitted for approval.
In mid-May, Hawaii moved from a “safer at home” stage in which malls and pet grooming reopened, to the current “act with care” phase that allows for the reopening of “medium-risk” businesses including restaurants, parks, playgrounds, pools, fitness centers and beaches.
Churches and salons have also been allowed to reopen. Bars, nightclubs, theaters and entertainment venues remain shuttered.
Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino last week announced the broad reopening of businesses and services effective June 1 with health and safety guidelines in place, pending Gov. Ige’s approval.
“The people of Maui County have done a tremendous job in reducing the number of COVID-19 cases and taking care of one another,” Mayor Victorino said in a press release. “With only a handful of new cases over the past 30 days and continued support from our health care workers, I believe we are in a position to allow our local businesses to reopen under health and safety guidelines.”
Activities still not allowed include gatherings of more than 10 people, organized or contact sports at county parks, or camping at county parks.
“As we move forward, we will need the public’s assistance to prevent a second wave of COVID-19,” Mayor Victorino said. “We do not want to cancel or delay our reopening, but we will always need to make decisions based on the protection of our people.”
Victorino’s announcement came as the state saw three consecutive days and the seventh day in a month with no new COVID-19 cases.
Gov. Chris Sununu has started opening businesses gradually under his “Stay at Home 2.0” plan, which has allowed salons to open, but are only allowing 10 in the space, including staff, with face masks. Retailers are able to open with limited capacity and restaurants were able to open with only outdoor dining as long as tables are 6 feet apart.
Beaches will open June 1, but sunbathers are prohibited. Beaches are only open for recreation activities like swimming, running, surfing and walking. Lounging and sports are still prohibited and parking lots will be at 50 percent capacity.
Other care services such as nail salons, massage therapy and tattoo shops may begin to open June 1 by following universal guidelines and CDC recommendations. In addition to the recommendations and guidelines, all staff must wear face coverings.
Katie Anderson, LynAnne Vucovich, Darby Hinkley, Lauren Fox and Evan Bevins contributed to this story.