With the increasing restrictions on restaurants and social gatherings, Rockville is slowly feels like a ghost town, or that we’re in the midst of a snowstorm without any snow. To document the effects of COVID-19 on the community, I randomly photographed shopping centers from downtown south on Rockville Pike. A few stores and restaurants were open (such as Fresh Market or Buy Buy Baby), but most were closed or had limited access or hours. Many had signs in the windows explaining they had temporarily closed or that they had switched to pick-up only, but a few just locked the doors and turned off the lights. On an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon, the parking lots were nearly empty. I have a terrible feeling that if this closing continues on for another week or two, it will have a devastating impact on many small businesses, which will have a cascading impact on the city.
Here’s what’s happening at the Mayor and Council on this issue:
At its March 18 meeting (a virtual meeting, audio was poor), they received updates on actions taken at the state and federal level, and how the city staff is coordinating with other agencies in the city and county. The City began working on a response in January by starting to examine critical functions in each department and the possibilities of telework. Dr. Earl Stoddard, Montgomery County Emergency Manager, noted that some supplies are becoming hard to obtain (such as hand sanitizer and N-95 masks); they are creating a volunteer center as a clearinghouse for goods, services, and supplies; they created a COVID-19 communications team; are expecting a medical surge if social distancing is ignored and examining how the former Washington Adventist Hospital can accommodate a possible surge); supporting the school district’s efforts to feed students; and announced that four grocery stores in Rockville have dedicated hours for seniors (who are at greater risk) to ensure social distancing. To support take-out only operations of Rockville food service businesses during COVID-19 response, parking meter spaces have been signed as 15-minute curbside pick-up. A subset of the committee working on a strategic plan for the Rockville Goes Purple Initiative will move the meeting planned for the week of March 23 to a later date to accommodate COVID-19 response.
At the March 23 meeting, they’ve reserved 30 minutes to receive an update. Will they consider lowering the property tax rate on commercial properties (Town Center has among the highest rates in the state)? Will they offer grants or loans to small businesses (as they did with Dawson’s Market)? Will they remind us to stay safe and wash our hands?