(May 29, 2020) With outdoor seating at restaurants being opened at 5 p.m. today, Worcester County government and the Worcester County Health Department are ahead of the curve with a streamlined application for restaurants to apply for outdoor seating on a temporary basis if they do not already have permission.
All Maryland restaurants and bars have been allowed to operate for carryout or delivery only under Gov. Larry Hogan’s emergency declaration on March 16 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The idea for the streamlined application came up during the Worcester County Commissioners emergency meeting on May 14, when they also asked the health department to draft outdoor seating guidelines that could be included in a letter asking Hogan to relax restaurant restrictions. The commissioners thought that if a restaurant could provide temporary outdoor seating in a parking lot, for example, it should be allowed to do so via a permit.
They sent the letter to Hogan the next day urging him to open outdoor seating at restaurants by Memorial Day Weekend. Similarly, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) and Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38 C) also asked Hogan to open outdoor restaurant seating, arguing that it would be safer than eating in public areas outside and that restaurants needed ample time to prepare. Hogan, however, stuck to the reopening protocols he and his advisors developed.
Ed Tudor, director of review and permitting, said his department, the department of environmental programs, the county fire marshal’s office and the county health department have been working on the streamlined application for the past two-and-a-half weeks.
“We’ll have to make some adjustments in our process depending on what he [Hogan] announces, but we will be ready when he comes out with his announcement,” Tudor said, hours before the announcement.
He added that the application package would be available on the Worcester County website as soon as staff tweaks it to match Hogan’s guidelines. It will be available in a fillable PDF that restaurants can complete online and email to the county. Any supplementary information can be scanned and emailed.
Tudor hopes each permit can be approved in just a couple days.
“We are going to try to make this as fast as we can, but it’s like the old adage – the better information we get, the quicker we’ll be able to turn it around,” Tudor said.
He advised restaurants to complete the application electronically, as it will be approved faster. Worcester County will have one permit application for unincorporated areas, and the county health department will have a separate one for the municipalities, according to Tudor.
He said the applications would be mostly the same, but that the health department application might have a few more health-related questions than the county application.
According to Hogan’s guidelines announced during a press conference on Wednesday, restaurants may seat no more than six people to tables that are socially distanced. Restaurants must provide disposable silverware and menus.
Restaurants must conduct daily health screenings for employees, including temperature checks. Employees must wear face masks.
Tudor advised restaurant operators to check on the county website to stay updated with the permit. Visit http://www.co.worcester.md.us.