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Baltimore Restaurants May Open Again At 25% Capacity, While Gathering, Retail Restrictions Tighten

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Mayor Jack Young announced on Thursday that Baltimore City restaurants may open, this time at 25% capacity, beginning at 5:00 p.m. Friday. The Democrat also announced tightened pandemic restrictions, some of which are stricter than Maryland guidelines.

The announcement comes about two weeks after Young suspended indoor dining services amid a large spike in COVID-19 cases; new case numbers continue to surpass those of April and May. 

In a statement, Young said his decision does not mean the pandemic is over, but is rather an attempt to support the restaurant and service industry.

“Today's action is about protecting the holistic welfare of our city,” Young said. “I have chosen to act to protect the financial wellbeing of our city and our residents. Congress' inability to come to an agreement to provide relief and support for the people of our country is deeply disheartening. Their inaction has forced my hand.”

Restaurants that reopen for indoor dining must implement social distancing measures like spread-out tables and have customers wear masks when not eating or drinking. Restaurants remain able to serve people outdoors and offer carryout.

Public health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have warned that the coronavirus spreads faster indoors than outdoors. On Wednesday, Newsweek reported, Fauci raised concerns about high testing positivity rates in Baltimore and eight other major cities in a phone call with state and local officials. 

City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said Young made the decision after weighing the economic challenges faced by city restaurants. 

 

“We recognize that there are different levels of risk in activity, indoors being riskier than outdoors and attendance at large gatherings increasing one's risk of potential coronavirus exposure,” she said in a statement.

Dzirasa encouraged residents to remain vigilant, practice social distancing and wear masks.

Young also reduced the capacity for gatherings and retail businesses on Thursday. The new requirements are as follows: 

  • Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 25 people.

  • Indoor gatherings will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.

  • Religious facilities will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.

  • Retail establishments and malls will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.

  • Casinos will be capped at 25% of occupancy.

  • Indoor recreation establishments will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.

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.
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