EASTON — The Talbot County Council voted to reopen short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfasts to guests, effective Thursday, May 21, after a nearly two-month shutdown of such lodging operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council’s favorable vote on the matter was unanimous following a discussion of certain safety guidelines the council determined property managers should follow upon reopening their spaces to visitors.
The county’s guidelines state that operators should make local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for domestic travel known to guests and ramp up disinfection efforts in rental spaces.
The guidelines also specify that property owners should encourage their guests to use delivery and curbside pickup services when possible, and to bring their own personal protective and sanitation equipment to avoid creating further shortages of needed supplies among residents.
Councilwoman Laura Price said items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer are already scarce in the county’s grocery and convenience stores, so “people should come with their own supplies” because “there are things our own citizens can’t even get.”
Of the council’s decision to lift restrictions on lodging, Council President Corey Pack said he was hesitant to do so because of health safety concerns.
But Pack said he and Councilman Pete Lesher spoke with Talbot Emergency Services Director Clay Stamp and Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley, and they “seemed very comfortable” with reopening the businesses.
During previous discussions about easing lodging limits, Pack indicated he would be unwilling to support such a change until he got the go-ahead from Stamp, Wadley and other leaders of the county’s COVID-19 response.
Pack said to the business owners that he has been a strong supporter of short-term rentals and his hesitation in reopening them “was in no way based on my change in support for STRs.”
“It was based on my concern for public health,” he said, adding he wants to continue making decisions based on the data that are collected about the virus’s spread.
The council’s lifting of lodging restrictions comes ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend — a weekend that usually prompts an increase in visitors to the Eastern Shore.
While the limits on short-term rentals and B&Bs have been axed, Talbot County still remains under a state of emergency with many businesses and government operations closed partially and fully at the direction of Gov. Larry Hogan.
The council voted to extend Talbot’s emergency declaration through June 30 to maintain its access to funding as the county continues to respond to the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.