OCEAN CITY — The resort’s hospitality industry got some assistance last week when Gov. Larry Hogan eased the 10 p.m. closing time restriction on restaurants and bars.
With Maryland still in the third stage of its overall, multi-phased recovery plan, restaurants and bars since a Hogan executive order on Nov. 20 had been required to close at 10 p.m. each day. However, the governor last Thursday announced he was lifting the 10 p.m. restriction, although other executive orders for restaurants and bars remain in place including 50% capacity limitations, social distancing and mask requirements, for example.
Maryland’s key COVID-19 metrics have been trending in the right direction. For example, when the governor made the announcement last week, the number of new cases for that day was 2,190, the lowest it had been since the high new case number back on Dec. 4. This week, the number of new cases reported in Maryland each day never topped the 1,000-mark.
“With our data trends showing continued improvement, the holiday surges behind us and the increasing speed of vaccinations, we are now able to take this step,” he said. “Marylanders must continue to remain cautious and vigilant in order to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe and healthy.”
The 10 p.m. closure time had proven challenging for many businesses in the local area, especially since neighboring Delaware recently returned to its traditional 1 a.m. closure time for restaurants and bars. When Hogan announced the 10 p.m. closure mandate in late November, he did not specifically blame restaurants and bars for the recent spike in new COVID cases at that time, but pointed out late-night activity at some locations was likely contributing to the spread.
There is little data to suggest restaurants and bars are super-spreaders of the virus. In fact, family gatherings have been blamed for the most recent spike in new COVID cases. Nonetheless, the hospitality industry has borne the brunt of state regulations regarding the pandemic and many are struggling just to get by.
Ironically, just prior to Hogan’s announcement last Thursday, a coalition of hospitality industry advocates, including the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association locally, were preparing a letter to Hogan seeking a relaxation of the 10 p.m. closure time. That letter was being prepared last Thursday afternoon just hours before the governor announced he was relaxing the rule.
Shortly after Hogan’s announcement last Thursday, State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) praised the governor for taking the next step in the recovery process. Through the pandemic, Carozza has been a strong advocate for small businesses in her district, which includes Ocean City, and throughout the state.
“This much-needed relief for our small businesses will go a long way in helping them stay open for the long haul,” she said. “I will continue to give it my all when it comes to supporting our shore job creators as we work toward a full reopening and recovery.”
In addition to easing the 10 p.m. closing time, Hogan last week announced an additional $30 million has been allocated to the state’s relief program for food service establishments, adding to the $50 million allocated in October. Restaurants can apply for the grants through their local jurisdictions. The state grants can be used for rent, payroll, job training, expanding outdoor dining, including tents and heaters, for example, and other uses related to COVID.