Between the Sheets: Reopening Monterey County requires collaborative effort

Peninsula Premier Admin

Nearly a year after COVID-19 shut down our community and economy, residents continue navigating pandemic-related health risks and economic challenges.

Hospitality is far from full recovery. California officials have outlined four reopening categories, each linked to regional test positivity rates and health equity metrics. In early February, Monterey County remains in the state’s purple tier. That keeps many non-essential indoor business operations closed.

Some restaurants reintroduced outdoor dining in late January, and select businesses now operate with capacity limits and modifications. Businesses that serve and employ large groups, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey Conference Center, face a longer road to recovery.

“We’re thankful to have outdoor dining again, but it takes time to order supplies and bring back staff. Moreover, outdoor-only service doesn’t make financial sense for everyone. Some businesses will stay closed until we can safely reopen for indoor dining and group gatherings,” says Teddy Balestreri, Cannery Row Co. vice president of hospitality operations and a member of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Business and Jobs Recovery Task Force. “Almost one year in, businesses are at a tipping point. Some can’t hold on much longer.”

The Impacts

Monterey County visitor spending fell by approximately $1.8 billion in 2020, triggering lost revenues, taxes and employment opportunities. In tourism alone, COVID-19 has left more than 12,000 of the county’s 27,000 hospitality workers unemployed or working reduced hours. That number does not account for additional personal and financial challenges. Many households now attend weekly food bank distributions.

Decreased business affects more than jobs. Monterey, for example, recorded a $44.5 million drop in 2020 transient occupancy taxes. Those taxes support police and fire services, road maintenance, libraries and other vital public works. Monterey also carves out 17% of its transient occupancy taxes for neighborhood improvement programs, at a loss of $7.5 million in 2020.

Moving to California’s red tier allows more non-essential indoor businesses and schools to reopen. It requires countywide test positivity rates between 5 and 8%. Counties must address COVID-19 in all communities to open further, ensuring that select neighborhood rates don’t lag behind overall county rates. This health equity metric helps decide whether counties can move to a less-restrictive tier.

Monterey County’s early February rates hovered around 16%, or higher in disproportionately impacted communities.

While we cannot lose sight of testing and isolation to slow disease spread, wide vaccine distribution moves us forward. Hospitality stands behind our agricultural industry and advocates for the rapid implementation of vaccinations for agricultural and food workers in ZIP codes with the highest infection rates, along with individuals ages 65 and above. Higher vaccination rates may figure into future reopening metrics, allowing more flexibility for businesses, schools and households.

Moving Forward Together

In the meantime, supporting local businesses matters more than ever. Residents can dine outdoors or order take-out, purchase bottles from area wineries, shop at neighborhood stores, and buy attraction and retail gift cards for future use.

Whether spending locally or encouraging elected officials to fast-track vaccinations so that schools and businesses can reopen safely, progress requires a willingness to work together.

WEAR A MASK. PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING. LIMIT LARGE GATHERINGS.

The Monterey County Hospitality Association (www.mcha.net) is the trade association serving the local tourism industry with advocacy, education and employee recognition programs. Janine Chicourrat, Portola Hotel & Spa managing director and 2021 MCHA board chair, can be reached at info@mcha.net.

Contributed by local news sources

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