As the months roll by, the cases mount and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have now surpassed 200,000 in our country. It can be hard to remember that every day can be a small disaster for some people.
Even those who have not personally contracted the COVID-19 virus are hurt by the pandemic, and their suffering is likely to go on for a long time after the development of a safe and effective vaccine is announced.
Even as The News-Post highlights the difficulties of small businesses, County Executive Jan Gardner had to announce that troubling new statistics compelled her to keep restaurants, bars and event spaces at 50 percent capacity. It was one more blow to small businesses whose owners are pedaling as fast as they can trying to keep their heads above the floodwaters of this disease.
Gov. Larry Hogan had raised hopes with an announcement last week that those establishments would be allowed to open up to 75 percent for indoor dining capacity, but Gardner said it was too soon.
As of Monday, the seven-day average for new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Frederick County was at 9.85. Most discouraging, that is higher than Howard County at 7.41 or Montgomery County at 9.12.
Gardner is trying to keep the lid on the virus, and she must keep close watch on the tell-tale statistics that can give an early warning that the disease is rising up again.
Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county’s chief health officer, explained that the statistic is important because it allows Frederick County to compare rates with other counties, and right now that comparison does not look good.
“I am very concerned about this sudden increase in cases, and I’m concerned we’re outpacing our bigger county neighbors, which have bigger populations and have had, generally, a higher degree of new cases and spread of the virus,” Gardner said.
You might not like to hear it – but you know she is right.
Everyone is anxious to return to some version of normal, or at least get a little closer. Unfortunately, we cannot take risks. These are life-and-death decisions, literally.
Still, your heart just breaks listening to the stories of the small-business owners and their struggles.
Take the case of Jorge Velasquez, owner of Mayta’s Peruvian Cuisine in the Westview Shopping Center. Operating at 50 percent capacity, his restaurant has only about 20 seats indoors, and 16 outside.
“For us, for a small business, it’s really killing us,” Velasquez told News-Post reporter Erika Riley. “It’s a very difficult time.”
With federal government support for struggling small businesses long gone and the pandemic far from over, the future looks bleak indeed for many businesses. Some will never be able to get back on their feet.
With winter coming, restaurants that have depended on feeding customers outdoors will soon even be without that relief.
Gardner and the county Office of Economic Development are looking at using some federal aid to help local bars and restaurants as the weather starts to get colder, but the need is great and the resources are few.
Rick Weldon, president of the county Chamber of Commerce, said that he’s seen numerous businesses close. One such was the Kitchen Studio Cooking School, which shut down its physical location amid the pandemic.
Owner Christine Van Bloem told our reporter that the only thing that might have made a difference is if the federal government had handled the pandemic in a more serious way from the start.
“Until the pandemic is put under control, people can have delusions that everything is normal, but it’s not,” Van Bloem said. “… But businesses like mine are just ... I mean, we’re not going to survive. People like us aren’t going to survive.”
And that is one more small disaster.