Anne Arundel County will restrict indoor dining hours at restaurants and limit the size of both inside and outside gatherings after county health officials cited an alarming increase in the transmission rate of the COVID-19 virus.
County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, made the announcement Thursday, two days after warning that his county might be forced to take additional steps if Republican Gov. Larry Hogan did not. Anne Arundel County becomes the second metropolitan jurisdiction to impose indoor dining restrictions since Hogan allowed indoor seating to resume in June.
“Rates of infection are a direct function of our behavior,” said Pittman. “Two weeks after the last reopenings, our rates surged to a level that could eventually require a devastating shutdown of economic and personal activity.”
County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman on Tuesday expressed concern about the increase in the rate of transmission in the county.
“Each of us is responsible to do the right thing, which includes using a mask, distancing and hand washing. Today’s actions are necessary because not everybody is practicing these behaviors, and we are seeing increased cases and hospitalizations,” said Kalyanaraman. “Our goal is to open schools and following these new guidelines is a key part of making that happen in the fall.”
On June 19, as the county and state were beginning to resume indoor dining and ease other restrictions, that rate stood at a rate of .8 new infections for each positive case reported. Under 1 means that the virus is not spreading as quickly.
As of July 22, the county’s rate was 1.25, equal to the rate on April 10. The county’s highest transmission rate, 1.81, was last reported on March 22.
Other key metrics are also beginning to trend up, Pittman said.
Pittman and other leaders of local government had called on Hogan and the state to reimpose some restrictions but were hesitant to do so on their own, citing a need for a more statewide approach. The Anne Arundel County Executive said Tuesday he hoped Hogan would make such an announcement Wednesday.
That did not happen, though Hogan did say the state was watching some concerning trends, including an ongoing increase in the positivity rate of those under 35 years old as well as an increase in hospitalizations.
Hogan, speaking Wednesday evening to reporters, said local governments had the flexibility to impose additional restrictions as they see fit. The governor, however, said local governments are failing to aggressively enforce existing orders and limits and said there was a lack of compliance on the part of a few and a lack of enforcement by those that have that responsibility.
Hogan said there was not yet a need to impose additional statewide restrictions.
“We continue to be concerned about a possible resurgence of the virus and we’re concerned about what is happening in other places around the country,” Hogan said. “As we have from the very beginning of this, we’re going to follow the advice of our doctors and our public health experts and we will not hesitate to take statewide action if and when we deem them necessary. But with our health metrics currently stable, we do not intend to suddenly close all of our small businesses and put all of those employees out of work because of a lack of enforcement. We do not want to crush our economy and punish 95% of Marylander and businesses who are doing the right thing because of the failures to control a small segment of willful violators.”
In Anne Arundel, the county positivity rate edged up since reaching a low of 3.25% on July 12. As of July 23, the rate was 4.23, still under the 5% level recommended by the CDC.
Additionally, Pittman said, hospitalizations in his county were also increasing.
Under the new orders, restaurants, bars and other food service establishments are required to end indoor service by 10 p.m. Restaurants in food courts and indoor malls are required to provide carryout service only.
The order also prohibits indoor social gatherings of more than 25 people. Outdoor social gatherings including parties, concerts, cookouts, festivals and other activities not associated with patronizing a business are limited to no more than 50 people.
Gatherings for spiritual or religious purposes on the premises of a religious facility, as well as gatherings at stores, offices, fraternal social clubs, youth sports or casinos, are exempt from the order.
Violators could face fines of $500 for the first infraction. Enforcement will be done through a partnership between the county health department and liquor board, according to Kalyanaraman.
“We must keep Anne Arundel open, so we must respond immediately to our data,” said Pittman. “This is a targeted approach driven by our contact tracing review, and our need to protect the working people of this county from further economic stress. Please, help us get our people back to work and our students back in classrooms by wearing your mask and physical distancing.”
Pittman also announced the closure of both the Arundel Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis and the North Arundel Aquatic Center in Glen Burnie following positive COVID-19 tests among patrons or staff. The facilities are closed until further notice.
Anne Arundel County joins Baltimore city as the second jurisdiction to move to limit restaurant service in the last two days.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Wednesday that all indoor dining at bars and restaurants would be prohibited starting Friday at 5 p.m.