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As cases climb, Hogan pushes for crackdown on pandemic violations in bars

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks Wednesday, April 15, 2020 during a press conference in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks Wednesday, April 15, 2020 during a press conference in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan is pressing county officials to do more to enforce compliance with state orders meant to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in bars and restaurants.

On Tuesday, the state reported 733 new cases, breaking a string of eight days under 400 and the most cases since June 25.

At least five bars and restaurants in Ocean City have closed temporarily for cleaning following reports of employees who tested positive in the last week. Hogan, citing a number of “concerning trends,” warned that the state might be forced to reimpose restrictions because of what he called flagrant violations.

“An increasing number of COVID-19 cases have been connected to non-compliance with public health requirements, particularly in bars and restaurants,” Hogan wrote in an open letter to county leaders, local health officers, local police departments and the Maryland Association of Counties. “Businesses that fail to comply with the state’s orders put their customers and employees at grave risk, and jeopardize our safe, effective, and gradual recovery.”

The bars and restaurants in Ocean City that have closed temporarily are the Purple Moose Saloon, Fish Tales, Dry Dock 28, Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon and Blu Crabhouse and Raw Bar.

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In Maryland, bars and restaurants are allowed to resume indoor, seated service — standing is not permitted — with capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Congregating in bar areas is prohibited. All staff must wear face coverings when interacting with customers. Facilities with booths must close every other booth, and no more than six people can sit at a table. All tables must be at least six feet apart.

Hogan, in his letter, said he believes the majority of bars and restaurants are complying “but some are flagrantly violating the law and endangering the public health. You have the responsibility to enforce these laws.”

Hogan said violators should be warned, fined or “have actions taken regarding their license, or closed if necessary.”

The concern about bars and restaurants comes at a time when state health officials have expressed a concern about  positivity rates among people under 35 that is 84% higher than those over 35.

At least a dozen states, including Delaware, have reclosed bars and restaurants. Delaware issued its orders on beach town establishments last month. The order has no current end date.

“We do not want to be forced to take the same action here in Maryland,” Hogan wrote.

“Our continued economic health and recovery depend on the active and aggressive local enforcement of these critical public health measures,” Hogan wrote. “We cannot allow a small segment of willful violators to squander the collective efforts of the overwhelming majority of Maryland citizens and businesses.”


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