Please view today’s Mayoral Briefing. Scripts are provided below in English. Spanish forthcoming.
Last Wednesday, Governor Larry Hogan announced several reopening measures after the State experienced fourteen days of downward trending COVID-19 related healthcare metrics. These measures were implemented with a flexible, community-based approach that authorized individual jurisdictions, like Frederick County and The City of Frederick, to make decisions regarding the timing of re-openings. And so, last Thursday, after an extensive review of the healthcare data provided by the Frederick County Health Department and Frederick Health and after consultation with local municipal leaders, County Executive Gardner announced slowed reopening plans for Frederick County. As Mayor, I determined this slowed and phased approach was necessary for The City of Frederick as well, as it ensures the activities we know put us at greater risk, like gathering in large groups and situations where physical distancing is not possible, continue to be on hold. Yet, it allowed for the safe return of many anticipated activities, including curbside pickup and limited in-store retail shopping with appropriate safety measures.
I have heard from many residents and community organizations over the last week. I know many of you want personal services to open. Many of you want to go to church, play with your sports teams, and eat in our restaurants. As your Mayor, I would like nothing more than to reopen our City. However, we know the virus is still in our community, and risk remains. The zip codes that include and surround The City of Frederick account for 78% of our county’s COVID-19 cases.
At this time, the City’s State of Emergency will remain in effect and our City leadership is working on the next phases of reopening with creative and intentional plans to support our businesses, our residents, and our most vulnerable. To ensure you are up-to-date with these measures and recommendations, I’ve asked Acting Chief Grossman of the Frederick Police Department and Richard Griffin, Director of Economic Development, to join me this morning.
Please welcome Chief Grossman.
Thank you, Mayor O’Connor.
In partnership with all City Departments, the Frederick Police Department continues to ensure public safety as we experience from the growing effects of COVID-19 in our communities.
As the State and our local communities begin to experience the relaxing of stay at home orders, I want to thank our citizens for continuing to be good neighbors by adhering to the recommendations of the CDC, State, and local officials. I would like to remind our citizens to continue to practice safe social distancing and contact the Department at 301-600-2101 if you have any additional questions or concerns.
As we transition into the reopening phases, I ask all citizens to be cautious as they engage in approved travel. Since January, the Frederick Police Department investigated over 700 traffic-related accidents to include one fatality. In addition, law enforcement agencies across the nation report a higher incidence of speeding drivers, possibly due to reduced traffic on the roadways. The spring and summer months bring an abundance of both pedestrian and bicycle traffic adjacent to roadways. We ask that bicyclists and pedestrians wear reflective garments during periods of reduced visibility and travel in the same direction as traffic. We ask all that drive motor vehicles to ensure safe operation by abiding the speed limits, follow all traffic control devices, share the road, and be alert for pedestrians. Be patient and arrive at your destination safely. The Department will be conducting additional traffic enforcement patrols in the coming weeks as part of grant-funded opportunities provided by the Maryland Highway Safety Office.
Since the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, the Department has also conducted over 9,500 proactive patrol checks of businesses and neighborhoods. Officers responded to an additional 8,000 reactive calls for service. To date, the Department responded to 127 calls for service of alleged executive order violations. In total, one warning was issued, and officers found on all other occasions the persons involved were acting per CDC, State, and The City of Frederick guidelines. The Department has assigned a direct liaison to the Frederick County Health Department to provide an additional resource and assist with the response to community inquiries.
Finally, we ask our community partners to take a measured approach as restrictions are relaxed. Be mindful of other’s personal space. Please continue to participate in City-sponsored virtual meetings and remain engaged with the Department and our community. We are extremely thankful for our community’s continued support.
I’d now like to ask Richard Griffin, Director of Economic Development, to come to the podium.
Thank you, Chief Grossman.
It has been nearly three months since the State of Emergency was declared in Maryland and in The City of Frederick due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The associated stay-at-home orders aimed at keeping our community and loved ones safe have also resulted in eleven long weeks of hardship and struggle by many Frederick businesses and non-profits to generate enough cash to pay their staff and bills. Some businesses have managed through a combination of diminished revenue, government grants, business loans, and owner infused equity to survive thus far. Many small business owners have invested everything they have in the business and are laser-focused on reopening when it is safe to do so. Our Frederick workforce families are also dealing with considerable stress from remote work, reduced hours, layoffs, furloughs, registering for unemployment assistance, financial problems, online schooling, internet bandwidth issues, and health concerns.
A recent COVID 19 Business Impact follow-up survey by the Department of Economic Development resulted in responses from 110 city businesses. At that time 6% were fully open, 51% were operating in limited capacity, 42% were closed temporarily and 1% reported being closed permanently. 72% of the businesses reported laying off all or part of their part-time staff. A similar number of businesses had laid off 75% of their full-time staff, although the Payroll Protection Program funding has helped some businesses bring employees back on payroll. 85% of the respondents reported applying for financial assistance from one or more agencies, and 47% received aid. Many small retail businesses under 10,000 square feet were able to open last weekend at reduced capacity, though larger retailers and restaurants are still only able to deliver and do curbside carryout.
In response to small retail re-openings in downtown, the City has significantly expanded its Curbside Pickup Zone Program to include parking spaces in front of small retail establishments. Restaurant and retail business operators are strongly supportive of this program and have asked that we keep it in place as long as possible. Additionally, the City recently increased the initial free-parking grace period to 30 minutes in support of the curbside pickup program. We are working to reopen public restrooms in our garages with appropriate cleaning and sanitization to support downtown patrons. Thanks to The Downtown Frederick Partnership, you will also see social distancing reminder messages along retail sidewalks in downtown. Please consider supporting our small retailers in downtown and along the Golden Mile and other retail corridors in the City. Your purchased goods, food, and gift cards may very well help them survive this challenging time.
We are also actively planning for the reopening of restaurants and bars for limited capacity dining. The City is developing options for increased outdoor dining and retail sales options. In our downtown area, this may mean a reconfiguration of public spaces along sidewalks and parking areas to increase safe physically-distant pedestrian movement and table spacing. In shopping centers along the Golden Mile and across the City, this may allow property managers to reconfigure internal sidewalks and parking areas to accommodate al fresco dining and retail sales. We expect to share options next week and get feedback from business leaders, residents, and our economic development partners. Please continue to share your thoughts and ideas.
Despite the incredible challenges faced by our Frederick businesses and workers, they continue to give back to the community in so many ways and pivot their business plans to be responsive to the challenge. Many have been highlighted in the news. The US Chamber of Commerce recently found that two-thirds of their small business members continue to give back despite the pandemic. Why am I not surprised? Business leaders and our hometown workers are genuinely invested in going the distance to help bring Frederick back to full health and operations. I invite you to check out our Business-In-Frederick Blog to read about the amazing work being done by Frederick’s businesses to survive and give back to those in need.
In closing, let me say that despite mounting short term unemployment, bankruptcy, and financial challenges, Frederick’s mid and long term future remains bright. My colleagues and I continue to work with existing businesses which are expanding, and new business prospects which are considering Frederick as a preferred business destination for investment and workforce. This gives me confidence that Frederick will emerge from this pandemic as a job leader in the Baltimore Washington region. New jobs and re-hired existing jobs that pay family-supporting wages in diverse industry sectors is part of Frederick’s strategy for economic stability. I feel fortunate indeed to work for the best small city in America. Be safe and support your local businesses.
Thank you, Richard.
Over the last ten weeks, our City has continued to adapt. We have mobilized a food bank, launched curbside pick up zones, transitioned a health center to telehealth, hosted dozens of public meetings, extended due dates for bills and citations, debuted an online portal for planning reviews, re-examined our fiscal year 2021 budget, and more. We will continue to adapt. We will continue to respond. As we do, this is an important time to remain aware and informed. The City of Frederick has many channels and opportunities to receive information: our COVID-19 website (cityoffrederickmd.gov/covid19), our social media channels, our news alerts, and our iSpires app. My office is also available for questions by phone or email.
Lastly, please remember that our reopening abilities rely on the willingness of residents and the community to continue to wear masks when in public places, continue to practice physical distancing, and practicing hygiene efforts. The stages and phases we need to go through will take time. But transitioning safely will ensure we can continue the course through reopening and not retract into restrictive measures again. With Memorial Day upon this weekend, I ask that you pay respect to those who have lost their lives serving our country in times of war and military service. I also ask that you respect and thank those who are serving our country on the front lines of this pandemic. Please continue to stay safe and be well.