James Rada, Jr.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world around us has changed, and whether it goes back to normal is still anyone’s guess. We witnessed the doors of some local business and restaurants closed, and others adapting the way they do business; local events cancelled or postponed; and this newspaper didn’t print April or May editions. Odd things… that go against our pattern of life.
However, area businesses, organizations, and residents have worked to adapt to a new way of doing things as they are now. This means things like social distancing, face masks, and lots of sanitizing. It also means lots of people sitting around unable to work, and those who can work having too much to do.
When the quarantine order closed down many businesses in the state, Billy Kuhn, owner of His Place Auto Repair in Emmitsburg, knew that meant fewer cars would be on the road, and he’d see less business. His employees went on unemployment.
“Basically, it’s just been me working,” Kuhn said.
He makes sure all the vehicles he works on are disinfected before he starts work, and he disinfects them when the work is complete.
He has run into some snags because it has been hard at times to get parts, either because the manufacturer isn’t operating, shipping problems, or some other issue.
He has applied for financial aid from the various programs available to help businesses suffering income loss from COVID-19. While he has been approved for some of them, he has yet to receive any funds.
Meanwhile, Shriver’s Meats can’t keep up with demand. Stoked by stories of meat shortages, people have sought to stockpile meat. They bought up what they could.
“I was having to tell customers of 30, 40, and 50 years that I didn’t have what they wanted,” said Dave Shriver.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have the meat, but the increased demand was impossible for his team to keep up with. They went from offering retail sales six days a week to one. They work through the week preparing meat for sale, and they offer it on Saturdays. Even that is only a partial fix. They have still had to limit how much people can buy of certain meats.
“We are selling so much meat that we are not taking any orders for anything else,” Shriver said. He hopes to start retaking wholesale orders by July.
While he is getting overworked during this crisis, he is happy he is still able to work when so many other businesses are forced to close.
Melissa Wetzel of Melissa M. Wetzel Accounting Services in Emmitsburg is someone else who is working long hours, despite the tax deadline being pushed back to July 15.
“The July 15 deadline really isn’t helping me,” she said. “This seems to be a never-ending tax season.
Although the business is not open to the public, Wetzel is still working. However, she is having to do it alone since her employees can’t come to work.
Her clients drop their papers off at her door, and Wetzel gets to them as she can. But the forms pile up.
“I don’t even take calls anymore,” she said. “I don’t have the time. There are just too many calls coming in with people needing help.”
Her clients can contact Wetzel via e-mail. She answers their questions or helps them with the paperwork that needs to be filled out to be eligible for the COVID-19 financial impact programs.
When a client needs to pick up paperwork, they arrange a time to come by the office. They pull up to the curb and text Wetzel they have arrived. She dons gloves and a mask and takes the paperwork out to the client’s car.
J&B Real Estate in Thurmont shut down its physical office, although Cindy Grimes continues working.
“We had to keep our physical office closed to the public, but we have been allowed to continue working with precautions, showing property but wearing face coverings, gloves, etc.,” Grimes said. “Meeting with no more than two people at a time, if possible. We have also made use of virtual showings, virtual meetings, and virtual listing appointments as much as possible.”
Despite being able to make accommodations, fewer people are listing their properties right now, so there is less business for real estate brokers. Particularly if a property is still occupied, the owners might be reluctant to have people coming into their homes right now.
“We are asking clients to do only what they are comfortable with,” Grimes said. “I do have a few occupied homes that are coming on the market, and we are asking buyers agents to take every precaution, including wearing the proper PPE and getting to the property before their clients so that they have time to open closets, turn on lights, etc., so that buyers touch as little as possible while they are visiting the property.”
Although buyers tend to want to visit a home in person, the use of virtual showings has been rising, and Grimes thinks that will continue even after the crisis passes.
Celebrations Catering in Thurmont still offers carry-out service for meals during the crisis, but catered events are not happening right now. “We hope to be catering again by July 1,” said Executive Chef Colin Snyder. “We are projecting parties of 50 or less.”
He said that while staff already wore gloves while catering events, he foresees face masks continuing to be used for the time being.
“The masks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he said.
One organization that saw big changes during this crisis was the school system. Students had to switch from learning in a classroom to distance learning.
“Teachers have redesigned their instruction to be delivered on a digital platform, and students have worked to adjust as well,” said Catoctin High Principal Jennifer Clements. “We have had to overcome challenges, including students’ lack of internet access and difficulties in mastering material without the benefit of their teacher right there to instruct and respond to questions immediately. Our teachers have put forth great effort to support their students virtually, and we have worked together with families to problem-solve the barriers to student learning.”
However, educating students was only part of the challenge. Students no longer had personal interactions with their friends. A virtual graduation had to be developed from scratch.
“The students have been disappointed, but they have also displayed a very mature perspective, including a reflection on what they have learned through this situation (such as an appreciation for what they had and/or have),” Clements said.
Mother Seton School also had to move students to remote learning. They closed for a day, so staff could put together a plan to accomplish this, and students were asked to take home all the textbooks and workbooks they might need.
“Once it was made official that we would have to close the campus, we immediately put our remote learning plan to work,” Lynn Tayler, Marketing and Communications Specialist with Mother Seton School, said. “Middle school was already used to using Google Classroom for their homework and some in-class assignments, so it was mainly a matter of organizing lessons and communicating with the families. Teachers for the younger grades adapted their lesson plans and technology use to best fit their grade. Regular communication with families was, and remains, imperative. The first couple of weeks were a transition for everyone, and we used the time to work out any kinks and address any special needs.”
The students had to deal with missing friends. Staff at the school put together a Virtual Spirit Week, book club lunches using Zoom, and a Virtual Walkathon for students to participate in.
Jayden Price, a sixth-grade student, said. “I don’t like that I can’t see my friends all the time. But it’s cool that I can do the schoolwork on my own schedule, as long as I get it done.”
With the virus causing the most damage in nursing homes, maintaining services for senior citizens posed a challenge. Meals on Wheels in Frederick County continued, but county staff took over the deliveries as opposed to volunteers. The staff wore face masks, used hand sanitizer before and after each delivery, and wore fresh disposable gloves for each delivery, according to Kitty Devilbiss, Home and Community Connections Directory for Frederick County Senior Services Division. A weekly meal delivery service was also added, which provided eligible seniors with seven frozen meals, and the Groceries For Seniors monthly distribution was expanded to accommodate twice as many recipients, twice per month.
Per the governor’s order, county senior centers were closed. However, seniors were able to stay connected.
“Additional resources were added to The Virtual Learning Center on the FCSSD website, and by mid-April, the Virtual 50+Community Center was launched,” Devilbiss said.
The virtual center allows seniors to participate in live fitness, education, and recreation activities on a daily basis to maintain health and stay connected with others.
With summer upon us, the crisis is expected to let up, but what will happen this fall remains to be seen. However, having been through the problems that came with the virus this spring, businesses and organizations will at least have a basis to work from should things get bad again.