Challenges of operating amusements during a pandemic: staffing and mask-wearing

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Amusements have been allowed to open for two weeks now in New Jersey, and welcoming guests during a pandemic has come with a new set of challenges. For some, it's finding enough workers to keep the park open.

The rides sat empty at Steel Pier in Atlantic City around noon on Thursday. Normally they would be running, but the new operating schedule means they don't open until 2 p.m. And sometimes it's a smaller operation.

"Yeah we've shut rides down because of the lack of help. Yeah," said Operations Director D.J. Gallo.

Steel Pier is operating under reduced hours because they don't have enough workers, and they're hoping to recruit more adults, who can work later hours than teens.

Owners say many of their regular staff are foreign students who come to the U.S. with J-1 visas, which were suspended until the end of the year by the Trump administration.

"We were supposed to get 130 of them but none of them came," said Steel Pier co-owner Chuck Catanoso.

The available positions run the gamut, from ride operators to food service.

"We need pizza makers, we need grill people, we need ride operators, grounds people. Everything, basically," said Catanoso.

On Ocean City's boardwalk, the rides at Playland's Castaway Cove are only open in the evening for now, though operators say staffing here isn't an issue here.

Crowd sizes, however, are down compared to last year.

"I'd say it's about 40% of what we would normally see. It's definitely more teenagers than families," said Playland's Castaway Cove Vice President Brian Hartley.

In addition to the constant cleaning the staff has taken on, they say they're also having trouble with some guests not wearing masks.

"We are approaching people. This issue becomes... not everyone has to wear a mask if you have a medical condition. So a lot of people fall back on, 'I have a medical condition.' There's not really much we can do about that," said Hartley.

On the upside, Hartley says, smaller crowds mean it's easier to social distance in the park.

The heat was another factor in Playland's decision not to open until 6:00 p.m., saying wearing a mask all day in the heat was too much to ask of their staff members.
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