AVON-BY-THE-SEA- With the pandemic hit 2020 summer season in the rearview mirror county and local officials hope to continue down the road to normalcy.  

Days before the unofficial start to summer, which promises to bring hordes of beachgoers to shore towns, Monmouth County gathered to kick off the summer season on the Avon-by-the-Sea boardwalk on Tuesday morning to spread optimism about this summer, as coronavirus cases fall and indoor and outdoor gathering restrictions loosen. 

“We’re moving forward, this is a forward season,” Thomas A. Arnone, director of the Monmouth County Board of Commissioners. “I could talk about the numbers, I could talk about the challenges last year. We overcame them, let’s move forward to this year.”

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Monmouth County, like other counties throughout the state, has seen a significant decrease in its daily new cases of COVID-19 as well as increasing numbers of those opting to be vaccinated against COVID-19 of the county coming past the pandemic. 

Since last March, according to the New Jersey Department of Health, there have been 67,302 confirmed cases in Monmouth County with 1,475 confirmed deaths.  Over the course of the winter, the county experienced hundreds of new COVID-19 cases a day. As Memorial Day Weekend nears, the county has been averaging around 35 new cases a day for the past week. 

More than 281,000 individuals in Monmouth County have also been fully vaccinated, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. The county will also be opening. 

In Monmouth County, anyone who is age 12 and works, lives or attends a school in the county can get vaccinated at Brookdale Community College, which is open Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

“We would like to announce that the County has partnered with the National Parks Service, Asbury Park, Long Branch and the Visiting Nurses Association to offer vaccines this weekend at Gateway National Park in Sandy Hook, Pier Village in Long Branch and the Asbury Park Convention Hall,” said Commissioner Deputy Director Kiley said on Tuesday. “The vaccines will be administered on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no appointment necessary for those 18 and older. Minors between the ages of 12-18 years old will need an appointment and a legal guardian present when they receive the vaccine.”

Unlike last year’s kickoff in Belmar, in which protestors donned grim reaper customers to protest beach openings amid the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s presentation was what officials hoped the summer will be: normal.

“We are at such a different place now, fortunately … last year we had this in Belmar and I was standing to a couple of people dressed as the Grim Reaper,” Ed Bonanno, mayor of Avon-by-the-Sea. “This year we are really looking forward to having a normal beach summer again. 

While Tuesday’s kickoff meant to send the message that the tourism industry is ready to make a recovery after being devasted last year, restaurant owners who were invited to speak said that labor shortages are threatening their return. 

“We have to realize that a lot of these businesses are going to struggle a bit with the lack of labor with the lack of labor to accommodate the demand,” Donna Lancellotti, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association. “When you go to the restaurants and when you go to order a drink … please remember that you may have to wait a little longer, you may have to be a little more patient.

“Right now, we don’t have a solution to the labor issues, but we need to be out and door business, consume locally and enjoy tourism in our own back yard,” she added.. 

The labor shortage is an issue that Joe Leone Introna, who owns Joe Leone’s Italian Specialities in Point Pleasant Beach, Sea Girt and a new location being prepared in Manasquan, is concerned may hit small locally owned establishments hard. Speaking at the press conference with a binder full of help wanted posters photographed all over the county, he said that one of the biggest concerns that he has is after the summer. 

“One of the biggest concerns that I have is yes, the businesses are doing well and we have an influx, but what is going to happen after September and everyone goes back to their homes,” he said,  added that “something needs to be looked at” in terms of unemployment insurance.

“Are these businesses going to be able to put away that much more money to pay the increased salaries,” he said, adding that instead of establishments competing with each other over food, they are now competing over staff. 

However, Last week, the New Jersey Department of Labor announced that the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent, a .1 percent decrease from April. Around 3,900 nonfarm wage and salary jobs were added in April, with around 3,500 in the private sector. Since the start of the pandemic last March, the state added 388,400 jobs. 

Of the jobs added in the private sector over the past month, 3,000 have been in the hospitality industry. 

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