The lodging community is ready to reopen.
Business owners have proposed a full reopening of hotels and other short-term lodging with protective measures and safety standards in place to protect employees and guests from the coronavirus.
The city will discuss lifting restrictions at a special City Council meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday
“We must find a way how to balance the economy and our public health,” Masudur Khan, the co-owner and managing director of Seaside Lodging, told city councilors on Monday.
“I was in favor of closing the city at the beginning. But it is true if we lose June, July and August, we will lose the whole year until the beginning of next year,” Khan said.
In an emotional plea to the council, Andy Mercer, of Maggie’s on the Prom, said hoteliers want to open responsibly.
“We want to do it in a way that supports our employees as well as our businesses,” Mercer said. “I have at least five employees — after seven weeks they have nothing. I’m writing them checks out of my PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money just so they can buy food. That’s not OK.”
Hotels have already changed the way they do business to address coronavirus concerns, said Terrance J. Bichsel, chairman of the board of Best Western Hotels and Resorts and owner of Best Western Plus Ocean View Resort and Rivertides Suites Hotel.
Hotel staff will not enter a guest room unless the guests are out of the room, Bichsel said. Front desk interactions will be minimized behind plexiglass, with floor markers directing guests to maintain distance.
But even with detailed safety standards, the reopening proposal comes with concerns.
Not every hotel or vacation rental has a safety plan in place, City Councilor Tita Montero said. “I don’t want to do this piecemeal or in a ragged fashion,” she said.
Councilor Tom Horning called for “factual-based” reopening standards “rather than emotional- or economic-based.”
Seaside’s Kathleen Macdonald told councilors that the state has proposed a “reasonable, science-based reopen strategy, relying on personal responsibility so citizens do not travel from areas with higher rates of infection to areas of lower rates of infection like rural communities.”
Reopening lodging ahead of the rest of Clatsop County would have “serious consequences for our communities,” Macdonald said.
In a letter sent to Gov. Kate Brown, Laurie Caplan, the chairwoman of Indivisible North Coast Oregon, said "Seaside’s elected officials are putting profit over people.”
"Our county is not ready to reopen at all, let alone lodgings," Caplan wrote. "We have increasing cases of coronavirus, including outbreaks among more than two dozen employees in processing plants within the last several days. Testing and tracing have only just started on a communitywide basis.”
Caplan proposed additional state or federal aid to help sustain hotels during the restrictions. “Without any help, the hotels will be able to put enough pressure on the City Council to reopen no matter what the governor advises,” she wrote.
Brown has approved the first phase of Clatsop County's reopening plan. The county has indicated that restrictions on hotels and other lodging will likely not be lifted until the second phase in three weeks, when the governor could end her ban on nonessential travel.
County Manager Don Bohn has called on the county and cities to coordinate on lifting restrictions.
Mayor Jay Barber said the meeting on Wednesday “will consider that process for opening overnight lodging and I don’t think that it is assumed that we will get out ahead of the county or the governor’s order.”
Unlike the county and other cities, Seaside did not explicitly ban visitors from hotels and other short-term lodging when the city adopted an emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus in March.
Seaside's emergency declaration authorizes the city to take “legal actions and issue orders as are determined necessary to protect the public, property, and to conduct activities that strive to minimize and/or mitigate the effect of the emergency.”
“Seaside is the only one that has to make the decision for Seaside,” City Councilor Steve Wright said.
Short of recommendation
At an early May meeting of the Seaside ad hoc reopening committee, business leaders were heartened by participation from Providence Seaside Hospital Chief Executive Don Lemmon and Michael McNickle, the county's public health director.
Lemmon and McNickle reassured the committee the county has adequate personal protective equipment and, hospital capacity for potential coronavirus patients
McNickle said there had been no hospital admissions in the county due to the coronavirus.
But those benchmarks fall short of an endorsement of an early reopening for lodging, McNickle said.
“The county’s position is that lodging reopening is appropriate in the second phase of the governor’s plan, when the nonessential travel restriction is due to be lifted,” he said in an email.
Lemmon said it was his understanding that the City Council “was awaiting further clarification from the governor regarding opening restaurants and hotels.”
Meanwhile, hotel owners face a dire economic crisis.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to reopen,” Mercer said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to work with it.”
“There will be no way we can survive if we lose the summertime,” Khan said.