Outdoor Mask Mandate Lifted, Some Dining Rules Eased

OCEAN CITY — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week lifted the outdoor mask mandate and eased restrictions on outdoor dining as the state’s key COVID metrics continue to improve.

Acting on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced earlier this week, Hogan on Wednesday immediately lifted the mask mandate in outdoor areas, although he encouraged those who have not yet been vaccinated to continue to mask up. Masks and face coverings are still required for all large ticketed venues as well as indoors at all public and private businesses and when using public transportation. The governor’s new directives for masks when into effect immediately on Wednesday.

Hogan on Wednesday also eased restrictions on outdoor dining. Effective Saturday, standing service may resume outdoors and bars and restaurants and all restrictions related to outdoor dining capacity and distancing will be lifted. Seated service and physical distancing requirements will remain in place indoors at bars and restaurants.

Hogan credited Maryland steadily improving COVID metrics in certain key indicators along with the continued roll-out of the vaccinations. The governor also strongly encouraged those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so.

“As our vaccinations continue to expand and our health metrics continue to improve, we expect to be able to take additional actions in the weeks ahead and return to a sense of normalcy,” he said. “However, I want to stress once again that the fastest way to put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Despite the easing of some of the restrictions, Hogan urged Marylanders to continue to remain vigilant against the pandemic.

“As we have stressed from the beginning, outdoor activity is much safer than indoor activity,” he said. “It has been a long and difficult year, but thanks to the hard work, the sacrifices and the vigilance of the people of Maryland, each day now brings us closer to the light at the end of this very long tunnel and a return to normalcy in our everyday lives.”

Locally, the changes announced by the governor on Wednesday come as welcome news. For over a year, masks have been required in all outdoor areas around the resort when social distancing is not possible, most notably on the Boardwalk where signage directing residents and visitors remained this week. It’s important to note while masks will no longer be required while simply walking on the Boardwalk, they will be required when entering stores, restaurants and other indoor attractions.

The easing of restrictions on outdoor restaurants and bars is also welcome news in the resort. At the outset of the pandemic, many resort businesses pivoted to an outdoor model and the governor’s announcement on Wednesday will allow many to return to some semblance of normal operations.

Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters said on Thursday the governor’s new directives announced on Wednesday move the resort closer to a return to normal in many aspects.

“Ocean City is lifting its outdoor mask requirement in line with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the state of Maryland,” she said. “As Governor Hogan announced on Wednesday, with improved health metrics and expanded vaccination availability, we are optimistic that we will continue to take steps toward a full recovery.”

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.