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‘Sweetest place’ for a pandemic

Josie Gawrys is the online editor for the Castleton Spartan newspaper who lives in Hershey, Pennsylvania and is studying from there this semester during the pandemic.

The newly-completed entrance to Hershey Park with social distance markings.

The streets were barren in Hershey, Pennsylvania for seemingly the first time ever. As the covid-19 pandemic lasted through the summer, tourism in the “Sweetest Place on Earth” took a hit.

Then, our county entered the green phase, and all bets were off.

When Hershey’s many tourist attractions opened in early July, residents and employees of the town braced themselves for a rush of visitors even in the midst of a pandemic. Opening up a tourist town is good for the economy, yes, but is it good for our public health?

Hershey’s town sign, which you can see as you enter the town on certain main roads.

The Hershey Trolley gives tours of the town and its history in a short theatre performance, and it has been running since 1988. As a fan favorite of tourists and town residents alike, they were dedicated to running again this summer.

Cameron Ebright is one of the Trolley’s many performers. He remembers the process that his bosses went through to make sure they opened safely.

“There was 5 to 8 pages of nothing but different policies that they put in place,” Ebright said.

From face shields to plexiglass coverings to sanitizing the entire trolley after every performance, they were determined to keep their performers—and their audiences—safe.

Although Ebright felt good about his own job, he couldn’t say the same for the rest of the town. He’s an avid Hershey Park fan, and he’s visited several times since they opened on July 3.

“Hershey Park was nuts,” Ebright said. “Every time I went, I would say 65 to 70% of people either did not wear their mask properly, or did not wear it at all.”

Ebright also visited Disney World over the summer, and felt much safer there, despite it being a much larger park. He noted that Disney employees disinfected rides multiple times throughout the day, enforced social distancing and mask guidelines, and had plexiglass everywhere, all of which are things he didn’t see at Hershey Park.

“It was a shock going from Hershey Park to Disney and just seeing the complete difference of Hershey Park putting in the minimum effort,” Ebright said.

Abigail Cedeno, who works for a food vending company in Hershey Park, shared similar sentiments.

“A main theme I have seen is a lack of social distancing and mask wearing,” said Cedeno of all the issues related to the safety of the park.

According to both Ebright and Cedeno, there are security guards present to enforce mask wearing, but they are not enforcing it strictly.

While some of Hershey’s more popular attractions were still bustling at a lower capacity, others remained relatively barren throughout the summer season. The Hershey Story Museum was one of them.

Julia Parrey is a Visitor Experience Associate at the museum, which means she takes phone calls and works at the front desk. And she says although they haven’t seen many people refuse to wear masks—“angry maskers” as she calls them—there have been a few people to disregard safety procedures.

“We have people who walk up to the desk and they come to the edge of the shield, leaning around the plexiglass, and they pull their mask down from over their mouth to talk to me,” said Parrey, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “Like…what?”

At Chocolate World, like many other locations, employees are scanning temperatures at the door.

Parrey commented that the museum at first scheduled a larger staff to help maintain cleaning guidelines and to touch interactive attractions so guests wouldn’t have to, but they decreased the employees per shift again when they realized that they weren’t having as many visitors as expected.

With anecdotal evidence from all three suggesting that visitor numbers at various locations were down, what does this have to say about the town’s economy?

As a town entirely focused on tourism, it had to have taken a hit from the pandemic. Unfortunately, multiple inquiries were made to both Hershey Entertainment and the Township and neither returned calls and emails for comment.