As Chester County residents and business owners have been navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, county officials have been working to determine the best way to reopen.
Through the Restore Chester County initiative, various stakeholders have offered input to the Chester County Commissioners’ COVID-19 Business Task Force. Those stakeholders have included representatives of the travel, hospitality, and tourism industries, along with business associations, non-profits, charitable organizations, and an assortment of government entities. The county encompasses 73 municipalities and 12 school districts.
The task force is also seeking input from the public through an online survey which focuses on the concerns of Chester County citizens; specifically, their willingness to engage in traditional activities this summer and fall, such as patronizing restaurants and other local businesses, or attending community events, and the concerns they have about doing so.
The survey can be accessed here. It includes 11 multiple-choice questions which are intended to gauge the level of interest the respondent has in engaging in traditional activities such as eating in a restaurant (indoors or out), visiting a recreation location (indoors or out), attending a community unity event, or shopping at a retail location.
The survey was first posted on April 23 and within five days some 2,500 county residents responded to it. It will be accessible through Friday, May 14.
Susan Hamley is the executive director of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau and a task force member. She notes it was important to get input from everyday citizens.
“The beginning of this focused on the businesses,” she said. “The businesses needed to figure out how to move forward and the county wanted to be there to help them in any way that they could. The county issued several grants to small businesses.
“So, now we’re at the point where businesses are figuring out how to make it,” Hamley said. “Some won’t, sadly, but hopefully most have found a way to weather this storm.”
“Now, we really need to understand ‘What about the consumer?’ Because in the beginning, people were fearful. And then being in tourism too, we followed steps. It took a long time for people to feel comfortable traveling; that also meant dining out, dining in restaurants.”
Ernie Holling is the executive director of the Chester County Association of Township Officials. He says the survey is part of a multifaceted strategy for reopening the county and is intended to provide information to decision-makers about what consumers are looking for.
“We tried the roadmap approach,” he said, “and the survey, is (intended) to bring more of that home to decision-makers. For example, in a restaurant, what do people expect? We know the guidelines but we don’t know what Fred or Mable expect.
“That may be more stringent than the guidelines or less stringent than the guidelines, but I think people need to know what people anticipate needing so they can meet that demand.”
Holling says the survey will also provide decision-makers with a demographic breakdown that will include the age of the respondents and whether or not they have been vaccinated.
Holling says it’s important that all stakeholders in the reopening process have a seat at the table. “We need to have them all there and contributing to the process,” he said. “And also to disseminate information.”
Hamley says there are indications more county residents are venturing out. “Now, with so many people vaccinated, the trajectory goes up exponentially every week.”
Despite that trend, Hamley admits some residents are still reluctant to resume their traditional summer routines. “It’s not for everybody,” she said. “If somebody is not ready yet, they’re not going to be persuaded to go out; you have to go with your comfort level. But it’s encouraging that so many more are.”