(June 12, 2020) Indoor dining is back on the menu as of 5 p.m. today (Friday), following Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Wednesday that he would be partially reversing his mid-March executive order that closed restaurants to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

His phased-in approach to economic recovery, however, will limit restaurants’ indoor dining capacity to 50 percent. Still, that’s outstanding news to long-suffering restaurants, some of which have been teetering on the brink of insolvency during the state’s apparently successful effort to bring the transmission of covid-19 under control.

“Because of the early and aggressive actions taken, we have not only flattened the curve, we have actually crushed the curve in Maryland,” Hogan said. “Every one of the important metrics in our state has continued to drop across the board in every single jurisdiction.”

Hospitalizations decreased to 960 and ICU stays have also plummeted to 308 — an eight-week low, Hogan said. He also reported that the state’s positivity rate — the percentage of people who tested positive for covid-19 out of all tests administered — has improved dramatically.

“Our statewide positivity rate is down to 7.2 percent, which is a more than 73 percent decrease since its peak 55 days ago, when we were at 26.91 percent,” Hogan said. “Over the past week, Maryland has experienced the largest decline in positivity in America.” 

Even though city officials and resort businesspeople expressed extreme frustration last week with Hogan’s silence on indoor dining, Wednesday’s announcement blunted those criticisms for the most part. But the one issue that does remain for restaurants and bars is staffing, which apparently is in short supply.

“Most operators have been working around the clock, navigating the [payroll protection loans] info, the CDC guidelines and trying to figure out when they could be open — many have had to work the lines and cook due to employee shortages,” said Susan Jones, Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association executive director. 

Those shortages, if they continue, could have an adverse effect on restaurant owners and their employees as more diners come in to be seated. 

“There is definitely a potential for early burn-out, which is why some sense of normalcy needs to be here sooner, rather than later,” Jones said. “The federal unemployment of $600/week has become an issue,” she said of the supplemental payment that has made being on unemployment more financially attractive to some recipients than returning to work.

Nonetheless, local business owners have much to celebrate, as outdoor amusements and rides, miniature golf and go-kart tracks may reopen this Friday, as well, and outdoor pool capacities may increase to 50 percent. 

Furthermore, if key metrics continue to decline or plateau, effective next Friday, June 19, at 5 p.m., indoor fitness, dance and martial arts studios may reopen at 50 percent capacity, as well as arcades, casinos and malls. 

All businesses must continue to follow strict Center for Diseases and Prevention Center (CDC) guidelines, as well as those of the National Restaurant Association. 

Schools also received some good news on Wednesday, including the ability host outdoor graduation ceremonies. 

“In light of the encouraging data that we’ve seen in recent weeks … school systems will now be able to bring small groups of students and staff into school buildings for summer school programing,” State Superintendent Karen Salmon said. 

Schools are required to limit groups to 10 to 15 individual students and staff per room. 

Local school boards should prioritize students who have suffered the most during the pandemic closures, Salmon said, which includes students who have fallen behind, lack the ability to learn remotely and who lack educational resources.  

All non-public special education schools may also reopen for disabled students.

 As for free school meals, Salmon said those decisions would be left up to local school systems.

High school sports may resume practice and training activities under the same guidelines issued previously for youth sports programs. 

Childcare providers may also reopen as long as they follow capacity restrictions, and maximum class sizes in childcare centers are now 15 individuals per classroom. 

Despite the good news, Hogan reminded the public that low risk, did not mean no risk. 

“The fight against this virus is far from over. In fact, now more than ever, as we begin to come into contact with more people, we must all continue to remain vigilant,” Hogan said. 

Visit the following links for reopening guidelines: 

Education — http://marylandpublicschools.org/newsroom/Documents/MSDERecoveryPlan.pdf 

Indoor dining — https://commerce.maryland.gov/Documents/BusinessResource/Restaurants-bars-COVID-19-Best-Practices.pdf

Fitness — https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CXRw_ERNJoKxzdj-am1R0Xn5wf_Hf3Q5/view 

Amusements — https://drive.google.com/file/d/17v1SVE3Q_F4itYlMUwBi2RrJiWERP41w/view

Josh covers everything Ocean City government and crime. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2019 with a B.A. in French and Journalism.

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