Governor Reinstates COVID-19 Limits On Bars, Restaurants
Beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, restaurants and bars across Maryland will be required to operate at reduced capacity under a new executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan. The move is a reaction to rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state and across the country.
At a press conference Tuesday, Hogan warned that the coronavirus is now spreading rapidly in rural, suburban and urban areas across the state, including places that have not seen large spikes in the virus before now.
“More people are getting infected with the virus, more people are being hospitalized, more people are going into intensive care, and more Marylanders are dying,” Hogan said.
The statewide positivity rate topped 5% Monday for the first time since June. Maryland’s “case rate” — the number of cases per 100,000 residents — puts the state in the federal government’s “red zone.”
Hogan blamed residents and businesses for getting “COVID fatigue.”
“Too many Marylanders are traveling out of state to unsafe locations, hosting large gatherings, crowding in bars, attending house parties, and refusing to wear masks,” Hogan admonished.
Hogan’s new order limits restaurants and bars to 50% capacity statewide.
Local leaders can also impose more stringent limits and in some cases already have. In Baltimore City, restaurants are reduced to 25% capacity and must close by 11 p.m. starting Thursday.
Hogan also announced that the Maryland Department of Health is also issuing a new public health advisory, “strongly warning against any indoor gatherings of 25 people or more.”
Though this health advisory does not carry legal force, Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young has gone a step further and banned indoor or outdoor gatherings with more than 10 people. Violating Baltimore’s ban — or Hogan’s order limiting restaurant and bar capacity — carries a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine, up to a year in jail, or both.
But most of Hogan’s announcement on Tuesday was about health guidance, not mandates, because, he said, enforcement is difficult.
“So they're public health advisories that are just providing people the information they need to make the best decisions and strongly encouraging and advising them to follow the rules,” Hogan said. “But we'll take whatever further actions that we deem necessary if the situation continues.”
The state’s health advisory also warns not to take unnecessary trips to one of the 35 states with case rates above 20 per 100,000 residents or one of the eight states with positivity rates above 10%.
In addition, state employees will resume teleworking to the extent possible, and state officials are “strongly advising” private sector employers to limit the number of employees working in-person at any time.
To address the surge in cases, hospitals are making more beds available and bringing on additional staff.
Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said hospitals’ patient populations are rising for reasons that are not all related to the pandemic.
“Many people deferred elective procedures and health care in the spring and summer and are receiving them now,” Delbridge said. “Flu season has begun, and some people with the flu are going to emergency departments and requiring hospitalization.”
Delbridge warned that modeling forecasts December, January and February as the pandemic’s peak.
He warned that the flu can make residents particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and pleaded with residents to get their flu shots.
Urging vigilance, Delbridge repeated the advice many people have memorized by now: Wash your hands, wear a mask, and maintain physical distances from other people.