Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions Wednesday during his first press conference since being inaugurated.
The restrictions are the city’s toughest since March.
Standing in front of City Hall, Scott said hospitals will be overwhelmed with patients if the city does not act now.
“The health and safety of Baltimoreans is my top priority,” he said. “I will not waver or hesitate to make decisions that save lives in Baltimore.”
As of 5 p.m. Friday, indoor gatherings at public and private facilities will be limited to no more than 10 persons, and outdoor gatherings at public and private facilities will be limited to no more than 25 persons. Sports gatherings at facilities controlled by Recreation & Parks will be prohibited.
Scott also banned indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants, but will allow carry-out, delivery and drive-through.
He acknowledged that restaurants have been among the hardest hit, and said that by next week, the city will start awarding an additional $6.5 million in state grants to Baltimore's restaurants and public markets.
Marshall Weston, President & CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland said in a statement that restaurants will need more financial relief to ensure that their employees can make ends meet.
“Mayor Scott has taken significant and drastic actions in the interest of public health, and he now needs to take the same significant and drastic actions to ensure that 1,400 City restaurants also survive this pandemic,” Weston said.
Restrictions also include a cap at 25% of maximum capacity at religious facilities, retail establishments and malls, fitness centers and casinos. Scott said because people will not get to eat or drink at these facilities, there is less risk and they can stay open at limited capacity.
Outdoor recreational facilities also will be capped at 25%, but indoor establishments, such as bowling alleys, skating rinks and hookah bars, will be closed.
“When it comes to the well-being of our residents, I am not afraid to do the right thing over the popular one,” Scott said. “This is about saving lives. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Scott said he will be giving COVID-19 updates every week and urged people to make informed decisions.
“Baltimore, we're still in a pandemic. And to be quite honest, some of us aren’t acting like it,” he said.
He asked residents to remain vigilant and not to succumb to what has been called “COVID fatigue.”
“The majority of the cases we're seeing are from indoor and family gatherings,” Scott said. “We need to be even more cautious to keep our loved ones and our neighbors from getting sick and dying.”
In particular, Scott urged young people, who are less likely to die from COVID-19, to stay at home to keep their parents and grandparents safe.
“That's how serious this is. That hookah bar can wait. That brunch can wait,” he said. “We have to keep our family and our people that we love alive.”
City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said that this past month, the city has seen the highest number of new COVID cases yet.
“If previous trends continue, we expect December to be one of the deadliest since the pandemic began,” Dzirasa said.
She added that at this point, identifying the number of new cases each day through contact tracing has been challenging.
“We have not had to implement such severe restrictions since the earliest days of the pandemic and implementation of the stay at home order,” Dzirasa said.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, Director of Center for Health Security at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it was “important and right” to have new restrictions.
“While we've done better in Maryland than many states and better in Baltimore than many cities, we are not invulnerable to this virus,” he said.
The mayor stressed that he’ll continue to follow the advice of public health experts.
“All of this will be assessed over the next few weeks to see what we have to do moving forward,” Scott said.
Other jurisdictions like Anne Arundel County may announce tighter restrictions later this week.