A year out from the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Hampton Roads jobs still haven’t returned
By TREVOR METCALFE | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: April 5, 2021
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NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The human cost of the coronavirus pandemic in Hampton Roads can be measured by more than the lives directly affected by the disease.
It’s also reflected in the thousands of jobs that were eliminated when the virus arrived about a year ago and social distancing measures were quickly enacted. Even though the economy has partially recovered, thousands of jobs are gone.
“It’s definitely been a tough year,” said Christine Greene, owner of Learn with Me Academy daycare in Virginia Beach.
In terms of raw job losses, the leisure and hospitality sector has by far suffered the most in Hampton Roads, according to data from the Bureau of Labor statistics. The industry, which includes hotels, food services and arts and entertainment jobs, has shed 16,000 jobs, or around 17.7% of its workforce, since January 2020. For raw numbers, the next-highest declines have been in local government (6,300 jobs) and education and health services (6,000 jobs) — a designation that includes schools, universities, daycares and tutors, as well as health services like hospitals, nursing homes, and physician offices. Rounding out the top 10 sectors for total job losses are: manufacturing (2,300), professional and business services (2,200), state government (1,200), information (1,100), retail trade (900), federal government (900) and transport, warehouse and utilities (600).
Daycare facilities have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, said Diane Umstead, executive director of Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula. Even with government help, only around 85% of facilities have been able to reopen, according to a survey from her organization and Minus 9 to 5, Eastern Virginia Medical Center’s South Hampton Roads kindergarten prep program.
Despite the challenges, Greene has been able to reopen all three Virginia Beach locations after closing for one month at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. She’s also been able to retain the majority of her staff — only one teacher never returned after reopening, and two new hires from the week before she closed never came back.
Even so, the facilities have struggled. Each location had been operating at capacity, with about 100 students at the Mount Trashmore location and about 50 students at both the Lynnhaven and Centerville locations. When it first reopened in April, only about 20 students came back to the Trashmore location and about 10 at the other two, Greene said.
Centerville just reached capacity last week. Trashmore is filled with younger children, but a lot of school-aged students are “staying home with mom or they’re learning virtually,” she said, so they only have 15 of the usual 40 of those students attending. The Lynnhaven location is currently at 75% capacity.
The huge hit to leisure and hospitality jobs was a direct result of the pandemic’s affect on Hampton Roads tourism, said Old Dominion University economist Bob McNab. In Williamsburg, that meant anemic hotel occupancy rates during the vital summer season, said Ron Kirkland, executive director of the Williamsburg Hotel & Motel Association. The restrictions on activities because of the coronavirus cut occupancy rates in half, from around 50% in 2019 to just 25% in 2020, he said. Hotel revenues in June were down 84% compared with the same month in 2019. As a result, hotel operators had to lay off front desk, housekeeping and maintenance workers.
“That’s what you call devastating,” Kirkland said.
Kirkland placed much of the blame on restrictive gathering policies enacted by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration. Theme parks were first closed by a March stay at home order, then limited to 1,000 people in a July 1, 2020 update. The rules felt draconian and unfair, Kirkland said, who noted that Virginia Beach beaches were cleared to open on Memorial Day, with hotels there reaping the benefits. He said outdoor theme parks such as Busch Gardens and Water Country USA are also spacious outdoor locations and should have been held to the same standard.
Kirkland is hopeful that with the theme parks now open and vaccines progressing, this tourism season will be different.
“Some folks have made it through, but it remains to be seen how things are going to shake out,” he said.
McNab agreed and said vaccines and more knowledge about how the virus spreads would increase consumer confidence.
“All that leads to increases in travel in the short term,” he said.
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