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Baltimore rolls back one-hour dining limit and other restrictions

A stall reserved for pop-up restaurants at Baltimore’s R. House food hall sits empty in July. The city Wednesday announced some loosening of dining restrictions. (AP File Photo/Julio Cortez)

A stall reserved for pop-up restaurants at Baltimore’s R. House food hall sits empty in July. The city Wednesday announced some loosening of dining restrictions. (AP File Photo/Julio Cortez)

Several COVID-19 restrictions in Baltimore will be rolled back at the beginning of next week, including a one-hour limit to indoor dining that was put in place in January.

The order will also increase the number of people permitted in gyms from a maximum of 10 people to 25% capacity, and will allow performance venues, which had previously been restricted to live-streamed performances, to reopen so long as performers are masked and distanced.

Similarly, gatherings will now be capped at a percentage of the capacity of the establishment they are held in, rather than at 10 people for indoor gatherings and 25 at outdoor gatherings. Indoor dining remains operating at 25% capacity, and outdoor at 50%.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced these changes Wednesday morning, saying that substantial declines in daily new COVID-19 cases and positive testing rates, as well as a slight decrease in deaths, contributed to the decision.

“I continue to be encouraged by the continuous downward trend we see in our numbers,” Scott said in a press release. “I want to thank Baltimoreans for adhering to the public health guidelines and doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our city.”

The one-hour limit had been in place since restaurants reopened in January, following a massive spike in cases both throughout the state and nationwide that caused Baltimore to close both indoor and outdoor dining. The move was met with pushback from area restaurants, and the Restaurant Association of Maryland attempted to sue the city as well as three other counties that banned indoor seating.

Except for in Anne Arundel County, the bans were upheld. All four jurisdictions have since reopened indoor dining.

Another measure Scott implemented when restaurants reopened in January was sign-in sheets restaurants were required to maintain in order to promote contact tracing efforts. Restaurants must continue using these sign-in sheets, according to the Wednesday announcement.

Local business leaders welcomed the slight easing of restrictions, especially the one-hour limit on dining, which many restaurant owners questioned the effectiveness of when it was rolled out last month.

“The mayor’s decision to ease restrictions, especially lifting the one-hour dining limit at restaurants, is welcome news and should be a positive impact for business operations,” said Donald Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “This will attract more customers and revenue, which they need to remain operational. Hopefully, coronavirus cases will continue to trend downward and the mayor can adjust the restrictions even further to match neighboring jurisdictions.”

Montgomery County established a similar rule, limiting diners to 90 minutes in a restaurant, when it reopened indoor dining on Sunday. The county, which is one of three jurisdictions in the state, along with Prince George’s County and Baltimore, that have not brought indoor dining capacity up to 50%, also followed Baltimore’s lead in requiring dining establishments to keep a record of their customers for contact tracing purposes.

Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, echoed Fry’s remarks about the removal of the one-hour limit, but stated that RAM is now looking forward to Baltimore and to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to increase their indoor dining limits.

“As the number of COVID cases continue to fall and the number of vaccinations increase, we look forward to the lifting of more restrictions, such as increasing table size limits, allowing buffet restaurants to reopen, eliminating the 6-foot requirement between tables,” he said. “The road to restaurant recovery will begin in earnest when more people are vaccinated and restrictions are lifted.”

 

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