Baltimore restaurants will be allowed to reopen for outside dining starting tomorrow (Friday) at 5 p.m., Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced today.
The decision follows Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s lifting of some Covid-19 restrictions on Wednesday, which will permit outdoor restaurant service and the opening of pools, youth sports and camps, and drive-in theaters.
“I know our restaurant owners and workers have been frustrated and scared,” the mayor said at a news conference. “We’re taking this small step because we believe we can do it safely while providing a way for workers to make a living.”
Young said restaurants without outdoor permits can apply for them starting on Monday via the city’s electronic permitting portal.
Fluctuating Covid Cases
Young said he made his decision after being assured by health professionals that it would be safe to allow outdoor dining.
Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the decision, noting that testing has increased in Baltimore. She said roughly 1,000 Covid tests are being conducted each day in the city, as opposed to 500 on May 1.
She also cited “the decrease we have seen in the overall positivity rate of tests,” indicating that “opening outdoor dining facilities can be done safely, provided appropriate guidance is followed.”
Confirmed cases have been fluctuating, according to the city’s Covid-19 database. From Sunday to Tuesday, the number of daily new cases hovered around 109.
They dropped down to 57 yesterday before jumping up to 149 today, a sign that the infection curve might not be flattening out yet.
Deaths from the disease, on the other hand, seem to be decreasing. They currently average about three deaths a day compared to over six deaths a day in early May.
One practical question for diners is how to eat their food while still under general orders to be masked.
According to Dzirasa, customers should wear a face mask while at a restaurant, removing it only for eating.
Several other questions remain up in the air.
For example, will customers be able to go inside the restaurant to use the restrooms? Will any streets or sidewalks be closed to accommodate outdoor diners?
On his Facebook page today, Councilman Eric Costello was asked if eating outside at a restaurant is “now considered an essential reason to go out?”
With the stay-at-home order still in effect in Baltimore, Costello replied, “Eating at a restaurant is considered essential.”
Atlas Announces Early
Young’s move followed an announcement yesterday on social media by Atlas Restaurant Group’s principal Alex Smith that 11 of his 13 Baltimore restaurants would be opening on Friday.
They include Azumi, Loch Bar, Ouzo Bay, Ouzo Beach, The Choptank and Tagliata. Several of these establishments are located on prime waterfront property at Harbor East.
Last October, Alex Smith, his family and related entities contributed $68,000 to Young’s mayoral campaign, The Brew found.
Smith has been an avid Young supporter in his bid to stay mayor in the upcoming Democratic Party primary. Last October, Smith and his uncle, William Paterakis Jr., co-hosted a fundraiser that netted the mayor $235,000.
Of that amount, Smith, his family and related entities contributed $68,000 directly to the mayor’s coffers, according campaign finance records reviewed by The Brew.
In recent weeks, the mayor has been under pressure from restaurant owners and bars to allow sit-down service while observing social distancing measures. In Little Italy, it was proposed that one or more side streets be opened for outdoor dining.
Today’s announcement is a first tentative step toward reopening other sectors of the local economy. The city has not yet lifted its stay-at-home order, Young reiterated today, and all large public events have been canceled through August 31.
Hogan lifted the state’s stay-at-home order earlier this month, but gave individual jurisdictions the discretion to decide whether to continue the policy.
Young noted the following restrictions on outdoor dining to protect the public from a possible spread of Covid-19:
• No more than six people can be seated at a table, except for members of the same household.
• Six feet of distance must be maintained between tables.
• Single-use disposable paper menus or sanitized reusable menus must be used for ordering.
• Outdoor tables and chairs must be sanitized between each customer seating.
• Staff must be notified of Covid-19 health and workplace guidelines.
• Staff members’ temperatures must be taken daily.
• Wait and other staff must wear face coverings.