The Charles County Board of Commissioners set phase one of Charles County’s reopening process — a three-phased approach — for Friday at 12:01 a.m., allowing those businesses that can open to resume normal hours that day.
The commissioners met virtually on May 14 — after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) gave the go-ahead for Maryland’s phase one of the process — to decide on the most ideal date for reopening the county.
Donna Retzlaff, executive director of the Spring Dell Center, a nonprofit organization in La Plata which runs Hooks and Hangers — said deciding on when to reopen the county is a difficult decision to make.
“It is just an extremely difficult decision to have to make in wanting to keep your community safe and wanting to be mindful of the business community being able to survive,” Retzlaff said. “It is a tough decision through each phase that we go through.”
She told the Maryland Independent that it is important to keep the citizens of the county in mind, but the businesses are of equal significance.
“I do feel it is just so important to have the citizens in mind as well as the businesses,” Retzlaff said. “We are excited to move into the next phase and get the business open.”
Although revenue is a vital aspect to businesses, without the expected well-being and sanitization precautions being implemented, Retzlaff said customers and employees will not necessarily feel safe or come back to reopened stores initially.
“We are very mindful in wanting to keep our employees and customers safe,” she said. “A lot of small businesses feel they can monitor the customers coming in and out and [keep after] the cleanliness of their business.”
She explained to the Maryland Independent that, as a nonprofit organization caring for people with disabilities, the biggest challenge she faces is maintaining her employees’ general welfare.
“We are an essential employer caring for people with disabilities. The biggest challenge for us is keeping all of our employees safe,” she said.
She followed by telling the Maryland Independent that there are new safety measures being implemented in an effort to better prepare for the May 29 date.
“We have put a whole new cleaning protocol in place,” she said. “We have researched and purchased various disinfectants and wipes. Everyone will be required to wear face masks.”
She said that, in addition to social distancing requirements and new cleaning protocols, plexiglass shields and curbside donations are being implemented as well to nix the spread. “We have put up plexiglass at the registers, and we have curbside donations. We will have a limit to the number of customers who can enter the store at any given time.”
Retzlaff added that, overall, she is proud of how the Charles County community is dealing with this process, and the uncertainty is what can ultimately effect people’s psyche.
“I just am very proud to be part of the Charles County community,” she said. “I think the community has been very strong, and I think we will all get through this together.”
“I think the unknowing to the actual dates to each phases causes enormous stress,” she said. “I think we will get through it.”
Keith Grasso, owner of Island Music in La Plata, said specific safety measures at his business are being implemented to ensure a safe and effective reopening process.
“We are limiting our capacity of customers that we are able to have in at one time — under 10 rule — and putting a time limit on how long customers can be in the store for,” Grasso said.
He explained to the Maryland Independent that, in addition to capacity caps and time restrictions, other measure are also being taken to limit the spread of infectious illnesses.
“We are putting sanitizing stations throughout the store so customers can wash their hands, and we are keeping all of our music lessons remote for the time being so we don’t have that traffic,” Grasso said.
He said that, although he believes the county is ready to move to phase one, there is no necessary expedition of the process required.
“For Island Music, there is no rush to jump ahead,” Grasso said. “I think we are ready for phase one; I don’t think we are ready to move ahead to two.”
Grosso explained that the move to a partially online-based company has been a key factor in revenue generation over the prolonged closure.
“We had to adapt to more of an online business and order processing business. I think we did a good job doing that,” he said. “It was certainly challenging.”
He told the Maryland Independent that there are some roadblocks in transitioning to an online-based business. “You have multiple vendors who don’t have manufacturing going. We have demand, but don’t know when we will physically get them.”
Lynn Kylinski, 51, owner of Illusion Salons in La Plata for the past 20 years, said she believes the commissioners handled the crisis the best way they knew how.
“I feel like [the commissioners] handled it in the way that they best knew how at that moment,” Kylinski said. “I wish that some of the businesses owners should have been in that conversation. That way questions could have been asked.”
Kylinski, a stylist for 34 years, said closing has been a real challenge mentally and financially for her and her employees as well as her loyal customers — some of whom she has known for over 30 years.
“Personally, having my business close after I have been open for 20 years was a challenge for me,” Kylinski said. “I have been a stylist for 34 years — never been unemployed. I have had some of the same clients since I was 18. Those people become your family.”
Kylinski told the Maryland Independent she is most looking forward to getting back to work and “making people feel good” again. “We are all a family in this and we have kept in contact with each other throughout the process to make sure everyone is okay and if they need anything. We are passionate about our business. We love what we do. We want to get back into the mix of things.”
She explained that after the governor’s press conference about reopening the state, a meeting was held for her to discuss new protocol at the store.
“We had a staff meeting,” she said. “We had a plan in place and I had my protocol. I think people trust us as business owners. We can do it in a safe manner. Hopefully from there, we can move on.”
“One thing the county has really decided is that we are going to take a slower approach on this, but a safer approach,” Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin said. “The chamber has done a really good job.”
He said the most difficult part of the process is that it is not a full reopening. “It is a phased approach. Getting that information out there for people to really digest and still practice social distancing is really important,” Paulin said.
Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said the Charles County Board of Commissioners was pleased to partner with the Charles County Chamber of Commerce to collaborate on reopening the business community on May 29.
“We are eager to invite the community back into our small businesses in a safe and sustainable manner,” Collins said. “I know everyone has made significant sacrifices over the past couple of months. ... It has not been easy, but we appreciate what you have done to stop the spread of the virus and to keep our community safe.”
Collins added that the county has never faced such a difficult or important moment. “We are depending on one another to each do our part to ensure our community stays safe as we gradually reopen our doors to them. ... Charles County is now fully ready to move into stage one.”
He added that the county residents are going to be safer at home, but the county is prepared to invite people back into businesses with “the appropriate precautions in place.”
“Our businesses will be following all safety protocols,” Collins said. “The safety of our community depends on all of us. ... I am confident we can do this responsibly because we are moving forward together.”
Dr. Howard Haft, executive director of the Maryland Primary Care Program, said Charles County has seen a decline in beds used for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit and hospitals and there is sufficient capacity.
“This has been a difficult trial for us over the past several months,” Haft said. “I look around and see people socially distancing with facial coverings on. That was unheard of six months ago; that we would be meeting in this way.”
He added that testing is what will help people stay comfortable at this time — “the ability to do broad-based testing, testing individuals who are symptomatic and asymptomatic and being able to make sure we stay ahead of this virus.”
He said that ultimately, nixing the spread of the virus depends on what the actions of people are at this time.
“We all have faith in the future, but it is the acts that we do, between and among us,” Haft said, “that will dictate what the future looks like.”