Governor Larry Hogan today lifted capacity restrictions on restaurants and stores in Maryland, his biggest move yet to reopen the state since coronavirus cases spiked during the winter holidays.
But his executive order – taking effect 5 p.m. Friday – caught some by surprise, especially in jurisdictions like Baltimore, where restaurants remain limited to 25% capacity indoors and 50% outdoors.
Asked at a news conference in Annapolis if his order returning Maryland to 100% capacity for restaurants, retail, fitness centers and religious establishments supersedes tighter rules in some local jurisdictions, Hogan said it does not.
“But my advice is that they should follow the state guidance and get in line,” the Republican governor added. (The language in his order, saying it will render local regulations that conflict “null and void,” has caused some confusion.)
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, meanwhile, had a cautious response to the news, saying Hogan’s executive order is under review by the city Law and Health departments.
“Baltimore will continue to lean on the direction of healthcare professionals and local data on Covid-19 hospitalizations, deaths and new cases to shape reopening efforts in Baltimore,” Scott said in a statement.
One question yet unanswered is whether Hogan’s order, which allows a 50% crowd at Camden Yards, will prevail or whether Scott will impose stricter limits for the Orioles opening day game on April 8.
Masks Still Required
Under Hogan’s order:
• Capacity limits will be lifted on outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants and bars, retail businesses, religious facilities, fitness centers, casinos, personal services and indoor recreational establishments.
• Patrons may not stand at a crowded bar. Bars and restaurants will be open for seated and distanced service only. Masking, physical distancing and other safety protocols will remain in place.
• Large outdoor and indoor venues may begin operating at 50% capacity. (This includes theater, concert, convention and wedding venues, racing facilities, and outdoor entertainment and sporting venues.) Masking, physical distancing and other safety protocols will remain in place.
• Medical adult day care centers may reopen, with facilities able to set appropriate restrictions and safety measures.
• Quarantine requirements and other restrictions on out-of-state travel will be lifted. The state travel advisory will remain in place, and Marylanders continue to be encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 upon their return from out-of-state travel.
Timed for St. Patrick’s Day?
Hogan, Scott and other local officials have been under pressure from bar and restaurant owners to relax the restrictions that have forced them to close or sharply cut back.
With the reopening order issued just before the weekend when St. Patrick’s Day revelers flock to bars and restaurants, many said Hogan’s move was simply designed to fill restaurateurs’ mugs with revenue and that public health would suffer.
Others applauded the move, agreeing with Hogan that reopening at this point is safe and necessary for economic reasons.
“Our health metrics are great, and it’s time to get our economy going,” Hogan said. State health officials have pointed to recent declines in several metrics used to track the pandemic, including the state’s testing positivity rate and the number of hospitalizations.
As of today, new daily cases and hospitalizations in Maryland had dropped to the levels they were in early November, but were still above the lows reached during the summer.
Less than 10% of people in Maryland are fully vaccinated and the spread of multiple strains of virus variants remains a concern.
Liquor Board Warning
In Baltimore, the Liquor Board today reminded the pubic that bar crawls and tours, a St. Patrick’s Day tradition, remain prohibited.
“Licensees and the public should expect to see an increased presence from the Liquor Board staff to monitor establishments to ensure they are in compliance with current restrictions,” the agency said.
They specifically called out the neighborhoods where they will be watching for violators – “historically popular St. Patrick’s Day areas, including Federal Hill, Fell’s Point and Canton, during the weekends prior to and after St. Patrick’s Day.”
Any security personnel should have clickers for counting patrons both entering and exiting, to ensure proper capacity, the release said.
“If you see a pub crawl/tour advertised,” the release continued, “contact the Liquor Board to investigate.”
“Members of the public should be aware that if you are paying money for a pub crawl/tour registration for St. Patrick’s Day 2021, it may very well be a scam.”