Maryland Governor Opens Inside Restaurants, Allows Outside Amusements Starting Friday

Maryland Governor Opens Inside Restaurants, Allows Outside Amusements Starting Friday
Guests are pictured eating outside at Higgins Crab House in June. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The struggling resort business community breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday when Governor Larry Hogan announced the next stage in his phased economic recovery plan.

Hogan on Wednesday announced restaurants and food service facilities will be able to reopen indoor dining areas at a capacity of 50% Friday 5 p.m. The same guidelines for physical distancing, the wearing of masks and other directives remain in place.

For example, tables in indoor dining areas must be spaced at least six feet apart and there can be no more than six people at a table unless they are from the same household. Tables, chairs and other high-touch surfaces must be cleaned frequently after each use. In addition, buffets are not allowed, nor are any self-service operations and employees and staff must continue to wear masks to the greatest extent possible.

There was also good news on Wednesday for other segments of the resort’s struggling business and hospitality community. Hogan also announced on Wednesday outdoor activities and amusements such as amusement park rides, miniature golf and go-kart tracks, for example, can reopen at 5 p.m. on Friday with the same guidelines and directives in place.

For some area businesses, the wait to reopen will continue for another week. Starting next Friday at 5 p.m., gyms, fitness centers, martial arts studios, casinos, arcades and indoor malls can reopen with the same 50% capacity figure and the same distancing and other sanitation and hygiene guidelines in place.

Hogan’s announcement came exactly one week after he announced Maryland was entering stage two of his three-stage Roadmap to Recovery plan. Thus far, in each of the first two phases, there have been sub-phases during which more and more of the restrictions have been relaxed.

Last week, for example, Hogan announced the reopening of outdoor dining with limited capacity and the same guidelines and directives in place. Many believed and hoped a reopening of indoor dining with capacity restrictions would be part of the first phase of stage two, but that didn’t happen.

One week later, Hogan announced the conditional reopening of indoor dining along with the reopening of other businesses. The governor did not give a timeline for a capacity increase in restaurants, nor a timeline for the third and final stage, which includes allowances for larger gatherings etc.

There was also some good news on Wednesday on the education front, which comes at or near the official last day of the school year such as it is. Public schools can reopen their facilities for summer school programs with small groups of 10 to 15. High schools can hold outdoor graduation ceremonies, although most have already done so in creative other ways. In addition, high school sports teams can resume training and practicing under the same directives and guidelines.

Hogan began his press conference on Wednesday referencing the recent heavily attended protests around the state and voiced concern about the large groups not practicing social distancing or wearing masks. He cited a recent study that showed COVID-19 infection rates can increase at a 250% rate for those involved in mass gatherings.

Some were likely holding their breath because that lead-in appeared to suggest the governor was not yet ready to take the next step in the recovery plan and reopen restaurants and amusements, for example. Those concerns were allayed a short time later when Hogan extolled the continuing drop in many of the key metrics his coronavirus team have followed closely during the phased recovery plan.

“We have not only flattened the curve, we have crushed the curve,” he said. “Maryland has the largest decline in positivity rates in the country.”

Hogan tempered his enthusiasm with the caveat the COVID-19 crisis is far from over.

“This virus is still out there and we’re fighting the parallel battles of public safety and restoring the economy,” he said. “If we see some dramatic change in the numbers, we will pump the brakes and slow things down, but so far, our numbers are falling like a rock.”

Hogan urged all Marylander to continue to practice social distancing and follow the other CDC and Maryland Department of Health guidelines. Most of all, he encouraged Marylanders to continue to use common sense as they venture out into more and larger social and workplace settings. He specifically mentioned the vulnerable, at-risk segments of the population to which he belongs as a person over the age of 60 and a cancer survivor.

“Personally, I would not feel comfortable dining inside,” he said. “If I go out, I am going to look for an outside alternative, but that’s just my personal choice and we all have choices to make.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.