Business community weighs potential impact of Omicron COVID-19 variant
OCEAN CITY, Md. – As health experts are raising the alarm about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the business community is also considering how it could impact them.
“No one wants to think that we’re going to prepare for the worst like we did back two years ago almost. But, you do have to think about what’s coming, what’s looming,” said Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel Motel & Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Susan Jones.
For coastal communities that rely heavily on seasonal tourism, there are questions from business owners about how any potential travel restrictions could impact the availability of J1 workers. “Everybody depends on the J1 worker students to fill out the last 40 to 50% of their needs labor-wise. So, if the J1 students are out again, you’re looking at reduced hours for everybody. You’re probably looking at some days of closing,” said owner of Rosenfeld’s Jewish Delicatessen Warren Rosenfeld.
But the business community’s outlook on the unknowns of the new variant isn’t all doom and gloom. They say there are some silver linings. Jones adds that OCHMRA is keeping in close contact with J1 worker agencies, and there’s a lot of interest for the coming summer, barring any potential shutdowns.
Jones adds that another positive note is travel accessibility to places like Ocean City. “We are not a fly-in destination. We’re not a cruise ship destination. We’re a driving destination, and we’re very fortunate in that regard because people can just hop in their car and be here in a couple of hours,” said Jones.
Rosenfeld says another bright side is the rebounding economy, even as the pandemic continues. “Everybody still seems in the mood to be making money and to be spending money. So, in that regard we’re having a good year,” he said. “I think it’ll take a lot more than a new variant to taper down people’s spending habits right now.”
Plus, Rosenfeld adds taking what the pandemic has already taught us about running a business could be a roadmap for navigating the Omicron variant. “We’ll go by whatever the governor says. We’ll go by whatever the president says. I believe there’s enough people vaccinated where there won’t be shutdowns again,” he said.
OCHMRA also tells 47ABC they’re reviewing the numbers from last summer, and room tax revenues are up 34% from 2019. Jones says that’s a good sign for the upcoming busy season. “The past has shown us that we can live through this, and we can move forward and keep going. So, that’s what we aim to do,” she said.