Michael Theis is the editor and publisher of Route 1 Reporter. He grew up in Hyattsville and College Park. He has more than 10 years experience as a professional journalist, working for such news outlets as the Frederick News-Post, The Shepherdstown Chronicle, Patch.com and the Austin Business Journal.
Prince George’s County economic development officials are pressing for massive injections of capital and government aid after the local economy has been thrown into a crisis by the coronavirus pandemic. Without government relief, the now-looming expected recession threatens the capital of thousands of business owners and the livelihoods of many thousand more workers, according to local economic development officials. Major employers have had to shut doors due to social gathering restrictions and send scores of workers to the unemployment lines. The combination of social distancing and income insecurity for the working class has devastated the customer base even for businesses still-allowed to operate. The impact on small business-owners, particularly retailers, restaurateurs and artists, is expected to be severe and rapid in Prince George’s County, according to several contacted for this article.
“It is less likely they have the finances to carry themselves for an extensive period of time with limited operating capital,” said Jim Chandler, assistant city administrator and director of economic and community development for the city of Hyattsville.
The coronavirus pandemic disruptions and the resulting economic slowdown will wreak havoc on Prince George’s County government budgets, local elected officials say. The full picture isn’t yet clear, but officials near unanimously tell Route 1 Reporter they are bracing for a severe recession and multiple years of reduced tax revenue that could force them to make deep cuts to services, change they way they provide services, and delay long-term capital projects. For elected officials just now starting their regular budget-planning seasons, the prospect of a deep and immediate recession caused by the pandemic makes it hard to do the forecasting necessary to even build a budget for the next fiscal year. “It is a size-able hit. Everything I am reading implies it will be as bad or worse than the last recession we went through,” said County Councilor Dannielle Glaros in an interview.
City officials across Prince George’s County generally gave high marks to state and county emergency communication efforts so far during the local coronavirus pandemic. “I feel all levels of government, from the state down, are being very responsive,” said Colmar Manor Mayor Sandara Barrow, in an email. But she pushed for more information about whereabouts of individuals infected with coronavirus. “The counties are able to know if there are cases in their jurisdiction, but at this time the municipal jurisdictions are not,” said Barrow in an email.
Several contacted for this article singled out Gov. Larry Hogan for praise, commending him for issuing executive orders to try and stem the pandemic in Maryland.
“I think the Hogan administration is doing an excellent job. Their executive orders have been well thought out and decisive,” said Berwyn Heights Town Administrator Maria Broadbent.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in the region, Prince George’s County officials say lack of widespread testing remains the biggest problem hampering the county’s response to the pandemic. Prince George’s County Councilor Deni Taveras said the lack of widespread testing makes it hard to know the true extent of the outbreak locally.
“We are having some challenges getting our testing up and running and scaling up to the level we need to be to see the extent of the community transmission that is occurring,” said Taveras in an interview March 21, 2020. A small number of drive-through or walk-up testing facilities opened late last week in Prince George’s County, but county health officials last week urged residents to not rush them without a doctor’s prescription for a coronavirus test. County Councilor Dannielle Glaros said in a March 22, 2020, interview that a testing facility at a field hospital established by the Maryland National Guard at FedEx field is expected to come online this week.
Government officials across Prince George’s County say most residents are taking the social distancing measures seriously, though just about all contacted for this article said they witnessed gatherings that should have been prohibited over the weekend. College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn called for more strict adherence to social distancing orders.
“I have advised residents who see this activity to call the police,” said Wojahn in an email.
This article contains news and information released March, 19, 2020 about food assistance available in Prince George’s County and news about the regional food supply chain. Officials urge Maryland food producers to stay in business
The Maryland Department of Agriculture said it is essential for the state’s food supply chain to remain up and running. This is not normal. In a statement issued March 19, the Maryland Department of Agriculture said “reliable access to food is a human right and it is a critical that our food supply chain maintain – and even be prepared to expand – operations throughout this state of emergency.” The statement, which you can read in full here, lists several industries from agricultural suppliers to grocers to crabbers to veterinary services, as “essential” businesses exempt from executive orders banning business operations at bars and restaurants and other non-essential retailers.
The process to complete an overhaul of Prince George’s County’s zoning regulations has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced March 17, 2020. The zoning overhaul, which would govern how Prince George’s County’s built environment develops for several decades to come, will be one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation to be considered by the County Council in decades. The delay of the years-long planning effort is just one example of how the pandemic is disrupting life in Prince George’s County Government. Additionally, mandates to avoid crowds and offices have cratered traffic in the region. Developers are often required to submit traffic studies when their projects are reviewed by county planning officials.
As the coronavirus spreads through the region, 16 Prince George’s County Fire & EMS Department members are under self quarantine “out of an abundance of caution” after encountering individuals with the disease, according to county Fire Chief Tiffany Green announced March 18, 2020. “That number will continue to fluctuate in the coming days,” wrote Green. Fire officials said on Twitter the possible exposures occurred in both work and non-work-related situations. “None of our members have tested positive for COVID-19,” fire officials said on Twitter. “We are in close consultation with the Prince George’s County Department of Health on every call where we come in contact with a patient who is exhibiting signs or symptoms similar to that of COVID-19,” reads Greens announcement, posted on Prince George’s County Nextdoor sites.
The top news today: expanded school meals distribution sites, and Whole Foods launches elder hours. But first: Route 1 Reporter is launching a hopefully recurring series of articles to compile new information about food assistance available for Prince Georgians during the coronavirus pandemic disruptions. The hope is that this will be a daily-as-needed series, but the situation is rapidly changing and I’m experiment to see what works and what doesn’t, so who knows? On to the news:
Prince George’s County expands grab-and-go school meals distribution sites
NEW! We've expanded student meal sites.
Beginning March 19, new sites are Calverton, Clinton Grove, Gladys Noon Spellman, Laurel, Lewisdale, Springhill Lake, Thomas S. Stone and Waldon Woods elementary schools, and Benjamin Stoddert, Kettering and Oxon Hill middle schools. RT pic.twitter.com/XFXZKvAWSz
A Prince George’s County resident in his 60s has become the first Maryland resident to die from the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to Gov. Larry Hogan. The man suffered from an underlying medical condition so far un-detailed by state or county health officials. “It is with profound sadness that I announce the first death in Maryland as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Hogan in a brief statement issued March 17, 2020. “We must use every possible resource at every level of government to save lives and keep people safe.”
Hogan will hold a press conference at 10 a.m., March 19, 2020 to discuss the death, and provide more updates on the state’s pandemic response. According to the latest numbers provided by the Maryland Department of Health as of Wednesday, March 18, 2020, there were 85 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus documented across the state.
Nineteen cases of novel coronavirus have so-far been confirmed in Prince George’s County as of March 17, 2020, said Prince George’s County officials in a Tuesday evening conference call. Most of the infected are under quarantine in their homes. One is hospitalized, but is stable. As the outbreak spreads in Prince George’s health officials said during the conference call that residents need to practice “social distancing” to the greatest extent possible for the time being. “We have to hunker down,” said Dr. Ernest Carter, chief health officer for Prince George’s County.