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States enter into various stages of reopening plans

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.

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By Colin Mcguire

While the national toll for deaths related to COVID-19 eclipsed 100,000 this 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.

MICHIGAN

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 the 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.

MINNESOTA

Gov. Tim Walz is allowing restaurants, bars, hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors to reopen Monday 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.”

OHIO

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 may reopen May 31 with reduced numbers of children. Catering and banquet facilities may open again on June 1 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.”

IOWA

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. On June 1, 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 29.

“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.

VIRGINIA

Virginia is in phase 1 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.

FLORIDA

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s reopening plan is in Phase 1, 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 2 of the plan, which can be found at flgov.com.

Vacation rentals will be limited to in-state reservations and theme parks will be limited to 50 percent capacity. Also in Phase 2, retail stores, restaurants and gyms will be bumped back up to 75 percent capacity.

KANSAS

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.

UTAH

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.

WEST VIRGINIA

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 6 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.

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.”

NEW YORK

With the exception of New York City, the rest of New York has entered Phase 1 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 2 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.

MARYLAND

Twenty-three of 24 counties in Maryland have entered or announced plans to enter Stage One of the “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.

NORTH DAKOTA

North Dakota, for its part, 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 theatres 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 June 1, but schools may continue distance learning.

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