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Baltimore City And County Will Allow Outdoor Dining, Starting Friday

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Baltimore restaurants with outdoor dining permits can begin serving customers at 5 p.m. this Friday, but outside only, Mayor Jack Young announced Thursday. 


Hours later, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced that outdoor dining will be allowed beginning at 5 p.m. Friday in the county as well. And he said restrictions on retail stores, houses of worship, day camps and pools in the county will be eased as well.

The announcements come one day after Gov. Larry Hogan lifted several pandemic-related restrictions throughout Maryland, including on outdoor dining.

In addition, officials in Anne Arundel and Howard counties announced they, too, would allow outdoor dining and ease restrictions on retail establishments as well.

Baltimore Mayor Young said in a statement he wanted to "thank all of our business owners and restaurant employees for their patience and continued adherence to the use of social distancing and face coverings as we allow for this next step in our reopening.” 

The Democrat’s announcement refers to some of the outdoor dining guidance the governor’s office has issued; he said he made his decision after consulting City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.

"Based on the increase we have seen in testing capacity recently, coupled with the decrease we have seen in the overall positivity rate of tests, opening outdoor dining facilities can be done safely, provided appropriate guidance is followed," Dzirasa said in a statement.


Dzirasa said the city will continue to examine coronavirus data daily to ensure cases are trending in the right direction. She emphasized that customers who choose to dine outdoors should still practice social distancing and wear face coverings, except when eating.

Restaurants that do not have outdoor seating permits can apply for a permit beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday.

In order to reopen, Baltimore restaurants must obey guidance provided by Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, which includes the following:

  • Ensure patrons are appropriately distanced with no more than six people seated at a table, with the exception of members of the same household.

  • Ensure patrons are seated at least six feet away from each other, except for households seated together.

  • Use single-use disposable paper menus or sanitize reusable menus between each seating.

  • Sanitize outdoor tables and chairs between each customer seating.

  • Train staff in current COVID-19 health and workplace guidelines.

  • Begin screening procedures including daily temperature checks of all staff.

  • Ensure staff wear masks or face coverings when interacting with other employees or patrons.

While Gov. Hogan lifted the statewide stay-at-home order earlier this month, Baltimore City, along with several other localities, remains under stay-at-home orders of its own. Young has said that Baltimore needs more rigorous testing, more personal protective equipment and a stronger rate of declining cases before it can fully reopen. 
When the governor lifted the statewide stay-at-home order, he also allowed Young and other local officials throughout Maryland to decide when they “felt ready” to ease pandemic-related social distancing restrictions in their own municipalities; the mayor and others have had to issue specific guidance tailored to their localities. 

Just last week, Mayor Young said Baltimore would not allow outdoor dining. And he issued a statement decrying restaurants that opened in defiance of citywide stay-at-home orders. 

“If you illegally open your business," he said, "we will shut you down.”

In the day between Hogan’s announcement and Young’s follow-up, several Baltimore restaurateurs had said they would plan on opening their outdoor seating areas.

Atlas Restaurant Group, which owns several restaurants including Choptank in Fells Point and Ouzo Beach at the Inner Harbor, called Hogan’s decision “the announcement we have been waiting for” in a Wednesday Facebook post.

Olszewski said county restaurants that don't have outdoor seating permits can  go online at 9 a.m. Friday to apply for outdoor seating permits if they have room for it on their property.

"We will conditionally approve all applications upon submission until further notice," Olszewski said.

He said the county also is exploring possibly closing streets for outdoor dining.

Baltimore Connty also will allow outdoor pools and daycamps to open. They must follow the state's guidelines for social distancing, sanitation, and personal protection equipment, in line with the governor's announcement on Wednesday.

Olszewski said the county is aligning itself with state requirements, so that retail stores, barber shops, hair salons and houses of worship  can open with up to 50 percent capacity.

When it comes to houses of worship, Olszewski asked people to be cautious, noting that large gatherings, particularly with chanting and singing,  pose higher risks of COVID-19 transmission.

"So even though the county will no longer be restricting these services, I encourage all faith leaders to be prayerful about if, how and when they choose to resume larger in person services," Olszewski said. "We know the safest thing we can do is to continue virtual services and drive-in services."

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2