Trends favorable for move into Phase 2 by next week

(May 29, 2020) Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Wednesday an expansion of phase one activities.

“Effective Friday, May 29, at 5 p.m., restaurants, as well as social organizations, such as American Legions, VFWs or Elks Clubs etc., will be able to begin safely reopening for outdoor dining following strict public health requirements consistent with the CDC, FDA and the National Restaurant Association,” Hogan said. 

Tables must be properly socially distanced and may not have more than six people seated at a time. Single-use disposable paper menus must be used, or reusable menus that are sanitized after each use.  

Restaurants must also conduct daily temperature checks of all staff, and employees must wear masks or face coverings when interacting with other employees or patrons. 

“We are also strongly encouraging local leaders to find innovative ways to support our restaurant businesses,” Hogan said. 

On Thursday morning, the city announced in a press release a no fee, temporary building permit application for businesses wishing to add outdoor seating. 

Restaurants with pre-existing outdoor seating do not need to submit the city’s permit unless they are expanding beyond a pre-approved site plan area, Bill Neville, Ocean City Planning and Community Development director, said.

However, Neville said the Worcester County Health Department, which has been working closely with the city’s planning department, would require all restaurants, with or without existing outdoor seating, to submit a permit to the county to ensure social distancing and health guidelines were being met. 

The county’s permit should be available online sometime Thursday. 

“We know our restaurant community is anxious to reopen and we wanted to create an easy yet effective way for them to do so safely,” Neville said in a press release. “Any business or organization that wishes to expand beyond their existing site plan approval must complete the application online, receive approval from review agencies, and follow the state and CDC guidelines.” 

The temporary permit for outdoor seating does not allow use of public ways, such as sidewalks, the Boardwalk, streets or the beach. 

For more information, and to submit an application, visit https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/coronavirus-information/

Hogan also cleared the way for more youth sports and day camp activities, which may resume with social distancing, capacity and sanitation measures.

No out-of-state or overnight visitors will be permitted at camps, and camp employees and attendees must wear masks, according to the new directive.

Outdoor pools may also reopen with strict safety guidelines that include a 25 percent capacity limitation and a sign-in sheets for patrons.

Drive-in movies may also reopen. 

The move comes after weeks of trends the Hogan Administration found promising.

The state’s “positivity rate,” a compilation of data on testing, hospitalizations, fatalities and other metrics being tracked by the administration, was at its worst 41 days ago on April 17, and has improved more than 50 percent — from 26.9 percent to 12.8 percent as of Tuesday. 

Average daily death rate has also dropped by more than 50 percent since April 29, the peak. Total hospitalizations are down 22 percent since the peak on April 30, and down 17 percent in the last 14 days alone. Finally, ICU stays have been on steady plateau since April 29, Hogan said. 

“Our coronavirus recovery team will continue to watch all of the data very closely, and if these encouraging trends continue into next week, we would then be in a position to begin entering stage two of our recovery, which would mean a lifting of the order and allowing other non-essential businesses to begin reopening.” 

Hogan also mentioned Ocean City.

“I was a little bit shocked to see some of the photographs or the video of people on the Boardwalk in Ocean City with some of those crowds, which didn’t appear too safe to me,” Hogan said. 

Hogan said resort officials were addressing those concerns, and stressed that most people have been responsible and following safety guidelines. 

“While we are moving to safely reopen our economy and put more people back to work, we want to continue to strongly stress the need to follow CDC guidelines,” Hogan said. “The fight against this virus is by no means over. We must all continue to remain vigilant, particularly as we begin to come into contact with more people. Lower risk does not mean no risk, and safer does not mean safe.”

For a full list of guidelines, visit https://open.maryland.gov/backtobusiness/ 

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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