Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan should have allowed some inside dining capacity this week. Instead of granting limited interior dining capacity, Ocean City restaurants will be behind their Delaware counterparts who as of Monday will be permitted 30% interior capacity in addition to outside dining.
We have been largely supportive of the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but over the last few weeks there have been clear mistakes made, including unforgivable breakdowns in communications with governments across the state and slow progress on lifting crippling economic restrictions.
Rather than talking directly with the governments, officials across the state must sit and watch, along with the rest of us, a scripted press conference to find out how they will be allowed to operate. Next week we can presume Hogan will hold another press conference Wednesday night announcing the state is entering phase two (rather than phase 1B like this week) with a certain easing of restrictions, resulting in small business owners scrambling and stressing to adjust less than 48 hours before the weekend. This careless blindside approach is completely avoidable, but it’s the clear path outlined by the governor in recent weeks.
Allowing a hybrid of outdoor dining and limited indoor dining would give restaurants a chance to survive, not thrive, of course, through the early part of the season. It would also allow them to hire and train new employees who will be needed in this seasonal economy. Giving restaurants some inside capacity would allow for a deliberate migration back to normalcy. We would have even supported allowing outside dining effective today and interior dining sometime next week. The announcements are too vague and always leave more questions than answers.
Outdoor dining alone will tremendously help some businesses designed for it, while being a boost to some who can retrofit parking lots to a degree to allow for tables to be placed outside their doors. However, for some restaurants bound by geographical barriers and practical issues, it keeps them shuttered beyond carryout services.
For the most part, Delaware and Maryland have not coordinated their efforts at all. It’s foolish especially in our region. Delaware is allowing restaurants to offer outside dining already after an application process. On June 1, Delaware will allow hotels to open and permit restaurants to offer inside dining at 30% capacity. Though it seemed implausible just a few weeks ago, Delaware will actually be ahead of Maryland in its reopening plan. Delaware restaurants will have a better chance at immediate recovery as a result.
Decision makers at this point must ensure they are not making the cure worse than the disease. COVID-19 is serious business. The virus has proven to be incredibly contagious and deadly for the most vulnerable. In Maryland, 2,307 lives have been lost. In Delaware, 335 people have died. Across the county, more than 100,000 people have lost their lives.
However, lives are also being ruined in another fashion. There is a mental health and fiscal toll that’s devastating many families. With precautions in place and safeguards to ensure compliance, Maryland must proceed with reopening in a more deliberate fashion. Communicating intentions in a clear manner would be a nice start.