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Reopening states in various stages of plans with summer on the horizon

Editor’s note: Much of the nation has been shut down since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the economy is reopening, and businesses are ramping up for what they hope will be a busy summer that will return some sense of normalcy. To help mark the reopening and tell the positive, meaningful stories of rebuilding in a very uncertain time, today we launch 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.

While the national toll for deaths related to COVID-19 eclipsed 100,000 last week, states across the country find themselves in various stages of their respective reopening plans, sharing signs of optimism from local leaders that the outbreak is trending in a positive direction.

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 workers are required to wear face coverings, conduct daily health assessments and maintain cleaning procedures.

On May 26, gyms and fitness centers were allowed to reopen. 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 were permitted to reopen Sunday with reduced numbers of children. Catering and banquet facilities may open again today 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.”

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, 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 in Pennsylvania and Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio spending Friday and Saturday nights.

“On 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.”

Columbus residents Stan and Deborah Ling stopped at the hotel’s restaurant Friday en route to meet family at Seneca Rocks.

“We always stop here. This is one of our favorite places,” Stan Ling said. “And we were thrilled to find out they were open.”

PENNSYLVANIA

The Keystone State, for one, is in the process of reopening based on positive case numbers, which are still high in more densely populated regions.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan consists of red, yellow and green phases.

There remain 10 counties in the southeastern part of the state that are still in the red phase, which is the most restrictive, though Wolf announced Friday that those counties will move to the yellow phase on June 5.

The majority of the western part of the state, including Washington County, will move to the green phase next Friday, which has the fewest restrictions as a result of the pandemic, meaning restaurants, salons, gyms, theaters, shopping malls and casinos may open at 50 percent capacity with social distancing restrictions.

Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said that when businesses move into the green phase, the social distancing measures and “healthy practices” that they’ve been maintaining the last two months will need to continue. He said customers will want to feel safe when they begin patronizing businesses again.

“We understand that businesses, especially small businesses, are eager to reopen and welcome their customers back,” Kotula said. “And while that is the ultimate goal, we have counseled our businesses to open based upon customer demand for their products and services. This may take some time as customers need to feel safe to patronize businesses again, but it will be beneficial to both the business and customers in the long-term.”

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