County Wants To Allow Restaurants With Outdoor Dining To Begin Service

County Wants To Allow Restaurants With Outdoor Dining To Begin Service
The County Commissioners met this afternoon via Zoom.

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to send a letter to the governor seeking permission to allow outdoor dining throughout the county.

The commissioners will immediately work with the Worcester County Health Department on creating social distance protocols and sanitary measures to ensure the greatest level of safety. These measures will be included in the letter sent to the governor’s office.

The commissioners held an emergency meeting today via Zoom to discuss a number of relevant matters after Gov. Larry Hogan moved the state into the first phase of his reopening plan. The commissioners first voted unanimously to allow, as Ocean City did one hour before, lodging rentals throughout the county to resume.

Whether the commissioners even need to seek the governor’s permission to allow outdoor dining is unclear at this time, but the commissioners were united in the desire to send a letter to the governor first before allowing outdoor dining at establishments set up for it throughout the county.

“We want to bring it back under our control,” said County Commission President Joe Mitrecic. “If we put it out there starting tomorrow or Monday that we are asking this and people should try to jump through whatever hoops or walk through whatever … they should start on it now. Outdoor seating is going to be the first thing he opens up. We’d like to prompt him to do that in Worcester County sooner than later.”

Senator Mary Beth Carozza took part in the meeting with county officials and said she believes the governor’s executive order granting local control will allow restaurants with outdoor dining to soon begin offering sit-down dining. Delegate Wayne Hartman also expressed his support for the effort to allow outdoor dining throughout Worcester County and said he would be willing to sign any letter the county sent to that accord.

“Many of our shared constituents have requested our assistance on clarification or to pursue some of the outdoor activities we thought would have been included in stage one but were not,” Carozza said. “It’s clear that the governor is providing flexibility to you at the local level on future reopening decisions … wanting to take advantage of that local control and leaving it up to local jurisdictions to make the next wave of reopening decisions I believe is very helpful for the commissioners to support the effort to allow for the outdoor seating. I can assure you those protocols are already in place. Operators while they’ve been closed have been working on those protocols. Many of those protocols we offered at the local level were included in the recommendations that were passed to the governor’s task force. They’re in coordination with the National Restaurant Association.  We don’t have to start from scratch. We can take many of the protocols that have already been created, to package it in a way to support Worcester County government’s request. I think that would make a very strong case. It would also be consistent with the governor’s own recovery plan. Health, safety, physical distancing protocols in place as well as his direction of leaving to local. There are a number of other outdoor activities I believe the county may be comfortable moving forward with.”

At a meeting Thursday afternoon, outdoor dining was also discussed by the Ocean City Mayor and Council. Worcester County Health Officer Rebecca Jones said the health department, which will likely hold sway over opening plans and distancing for outdoor dining, supports the concept as long as the distancing guidelines are adhered to.

“We want to be supportive of that, but we certainly don’t want to compromise public health and safety,” she said. “Whenever we get to the point where some outdoor seating is allowed, there will be guidelines for spacing and social distancing.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca asked, “Can we send a letter to the governor from the Mayor and Council requesting restaurants with outdoor seating to open as quickly as possible? When I view stage two, I’m reading 50% capacity for restaurants with indoor seating. I think there might be an opportunity for outdoor seating with capacity and spacing limitations earlier than that.”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he would send a letter to the governor requesting a relaxing of the rules somewhat for outdoor dining in stage one. Meehan said he had spoken to Worcester County officials on the same issue.

“I spoke with County Commission President Joe Mitrecic and the county is also going to push for outdoor seating. Everybody is working hard on this particular issue,” Meehan said.

Confusing the issue is the fact Worcester County Environmental Health Director Ed Potetz said in a communication to food service facility operators, “This email is to clarify the Governor’s latest executive order regarding restaurants and bars. This order does not permit restaurants and bars to open for indoor or outdoor seating at this time. Only carry-out and delivery are permitted.”

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day on Thursday said in his daily briefly on Facebook Live attempts to allow outside dining in his city were turned down by the governor’s office. When a request for reconsideration was filed, the governor’s office rejected it.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.