Carroll County is further rolling back restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, in accordance with the governor’s second phase for reopening, and affected local businesses are eager to again welcome customers.
The Board of County Commissioners agreed during their Thursday meeting to proceed with Gov. Larry Hogan’s move to enter Phase 2 of his recovery plan beginning Friday at 5 p.m. That will allow for the reopening of many businesses that had been deemed nonessential during the pandemic.
Ed Singer, county health officer, urged residents to practice social distancing as reopening progresses. He said two people recently confirmed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have had contact with 30 people. Typically, he said, the health department only has had to worry about spread to household members of people with the disease, as so many people have been isolating themselves in their homes.
“These large numbers of people that [they] have had close contact with are very concerning,” Singer said. “If we continue to have that kind of thing, we’re going to wind up with a lot of sick people in the community.”
The Board of Commissioners plans to send a letter to Hogan seeking information as to whether businesses not included in Phase 2 that can comply with health and safety guidelines are able to reopen.
One commissioner went as far as to suggest the county government push back against the governor.
“We should take the initiative as a county government to push the limits that have been set by the governor," said Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4.
As part of Hogan’s order starting the second phase of his reopening plan, retail businesses, religious facilities, barbershops, beauty parlors and other personal-service establishments like tattoo parlors and nail salons may open at no more than 50% capacity, with all staff and visitors required to wear face masks.
Staff at bars and restaurants, tattoo parlors, nail salons, tanning salons, barbershops, beauty salons and massage parlors are required to clean and disinfect surfaces and equipment between each customer, “in accordance with applicable guidance from the CDC and MDH,” the order says.
There are certain businesses that cannot reopen yet, such as indoor gyms and shopping malls, and dining inside restaurants is prohibited. When Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, raised the topic of gyms, Bouchat suggested the county push back to get gyms reopened, saying gym-goers are not the most at-risk population.
“They are not the people at risk, so why are those businesses being penalized?” Bouchat said. “If they can comply with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines, then why are they restricted from being in business?”
He pointed to the fatality data most recently available from Carroll County Health Department at the time of the commissioners’ meeting — 112 deaths due to COVID-19 — and emphasized that 101 deaths were attributed to congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes.
Bouchat is scheduled to appear at a rally scheduled for Saturday morning in Westminster to protest the restrictions still in place throughout Maryland due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, defended the governor’s decision-making process.
“It’s just not him randomly picking the fruit off the tree to see who can open and who can’t,” Wantz said.
Wantz pointed to the members of the business community who have advised Hogan in the reopening process. According to the governor’s website, Hogan directed advisory groups to be assembled that included people from the small business community.
Rothstein echoed Wantz, saying Hogan and his team have been moving in the right direction while listening to county leaders.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, broached the subject of when county facilities can begin to reopen to the public. While many county services have continued to be provided during the shutdown, Weaver felt residents weren’t getting the same level of service.
The commissioners agreed to move toward reopening the county office building on North Center Street, starting with allowing residents to schedule appointments to meet with county staff. Roberta Windham, county administrator, said the goal would be to begin this June 15. The state of emergency is currently is place until June 13, she said.
Tattoo parlor, car dealership look forward to reopening
As the news of Phase 2′s beginning has spread through Carroll County, local businesses are preparing for what they hope will be a wave of customers.
The Vinnie Myers Team, led by Vinnie Myers, works out of Little Vinnie’s Tattoos in Finksburg. It is separate from the shop, which offers more traditional tattoos. Myers’ squad, made up of Myers, his daughter Anna and fellow tattoo artist Paul Bassette, specialize in three-dimensional nipple and areola tattoos. People travel from all over the world for appointments with Myers, he said, and he has been offering this service for 18 years.
The pandemic required any nonessential businesses to close completely until otherwise instructed to do so. But since Hogan implemented the first phase of his reopening plan, Myers said the shop already operates on an appointment-only basis, so he doesn’t foresee major changes when Phase 2 goes into effect.
“The thing about tattoo shops is we’ve always followed universal precautions and take other precautions to protect ourselves from blood or pathogens and things like that,” Myers said. “We’re pretty much already prepared with [personal protective equipment] and that kind of stuff, so it will be good to get back in business to some degree.”
Myers, who primarily sees customers who are celebrating the end of their breast cancer journey, said they like to bring a small group of people with them to celebrate at the shop. But there will be limitations on that moving forward, he said, and the artists will continue to take proper precautions to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their customers.
“We never have had 20 people in here at one time, so that was kind of unfortunate to be grouped in to something that we really shouldn’t have been in with,” Myers said. “What I do is an elective medical procedure more than anything, but I’m glad to be back at it, and hopefully we will all stay healthy and if we follow the rules, I think that’s going to be great.”
Amanda Arterburn, owner of Azure Salon and Day Spa in Eldersburg, said she and her staff are working together to reschedule cancellations from the past 10 weeks or so, when the salon was forced to close.
“I have about a third of my staff able to return, so that’s great,” she said. “We’re happy they’re able to come back to work and the clients are very excited … we can only have 50% capacity, so scheduling staff to work and scheduling clients toward that causes a little creative scheduling, but we’re working through it.”
The salon, which offers hair, nail, spa, massage and tanning services, reopened on May 18 as a part of Phase 1, but with strict limitations. Clients are now screened before they are even able to enter the salon, and they have to fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire prior to their appointment as well. Arterburn said she and her staff have installed face guards at manicure tables, hand sanitizer at each station, and the staff deep clean every station before and after seeing every client.
“We’re looking forward to conducting business as normal,” Arterburn said. “I hope that our clients are seeing all the efforts we’re making so far.”
Heritage Honda in Westminster will be allowed to reopen its showroom as part of Phase 2.
Zack Leonard, a service advisor at Heritage Honda, said that since the pandemic hit, there has been a slowing in business. Hours of operation were reduced for about a month and a half.
“We went from 12-hour days to about six- to seven-hour days, which is a lot if you look at it in hindsight,” he said. “We’re usually open eight hours Saturday, but it went down to like four or five, but recently we pushed it back because we were seeing a heavier volume of people start to come out again.”
But even now, Leonard said, customer safety is their No. 1 priority.
“We’ve upped our sanitation standards, we’re still disinfecting cars for customers, still doing contactless delivery, the usual,” he said, “and obviously complying with CDC regulations; we’re wearing masks and everything.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.