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Anne Arundel County announces new restrictions to mitigate coronavirus spread; Annapolis will adopt same measures

Anne Arundel County will impose new late-night restrictions on restaurants and bars, limit food-court style facilities to carryout and cap social gathering crowds in an attempt to curb the resurgent spread of the coronavirus in the county, officials said Thursday.

The changes take effect at 5 p.m. Friday.

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The county also is changing its approach to enforcement for businesses: The first violation of a health order will result in a $500 fine.

“Rates of infection are a direct function of our behavior,” said County Executive Steuart 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.”

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The City of Annapolis will remain in lockstep with Anne Arundel County, adopting Pittman’s directive, said city spokesperson Mitchelle Stephenson.

The announcement comes after Gov. Larry Hogan said coronavirus metrics did not warrant a statewide rollback of reopening restrictions. The coronavirus has afflicted more than 80,000 people across the state and killed more than 3,000. In Anne Arundel County, more than 6,000 have been infected and at least 206 have died.

“If we wait, then we’re gonna wish we hadn’t waited,” Pittman said. “If you act early, you’re tamping down a smaller fire.”

Under the new restrictions, bars, restaurants and other food-service establishments will be required to stop all indoor services at 10 p.m.

The order also establishes an indoor social gathering limit of 25 people, and an outdoor social gathering cap of 50 people. The order defines “social gatherings” as parties, cookouts, concerts or performances, parades, festivals, conventions, fundraisers, and other gatherings that are not associated with operating or patronizing a business.

Protests of more than 50 people are still not authorized under public health guidelines, Pittman said. But police have been working with organizers on an education-based approach, and have been at protests passing out coronavirus material and disposable masks.

Retail stores, offices, restaurants, fraternal social clubs, youth sports, casinos, gatherings for religious or spiritual purposes are not included in these limits.

Events like weddings, which are held at religious institutions or private venues, are not subject to the current gathering cap limit.

The county also is changing enforcement coupled with a renewed sense of urgency. While the county was previously approaching enforcement with education and a complaint-driven mindset,it will now issue $500 fines to businesses upon the first violation. The county still has the power to suspend or shut down any business that is not complying with public health measures.

Pittman made these changes Thursday after consulting with Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman and the recovery advisory group, which consists of business leaders, elected officials and others.

“We’re all in this together,” Kalyanaraman said. “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. Our goal is to open schools, and following these new guidelines is a key part of making that happen in the fall.”

County Council Chair Allison Pickard, D-Glen Burnie, said she knows the public and business owners, in particular, may be frustrated by the announcement, but the sooner officials act, the more effective the restrictions will be.

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“The better off we are... the closer we will get to reopening schools and getting back (or closer to) normal,” she said.

Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, who serves on Pittman’s recovery advisory team, said the focus should be on saving lives.

“Unfortunately we have seen an uptick and we have to react and do what is best,” Pruski said. “When the case count goes up, hospitalizations and deaths go up but it takes a couple weeks. We don’t want to see those numbers go up.”

The new restrictions are an effort to control the next few weeks of the pandemic in Anne Arundel County, he said.

Another member of the recovery advisory team, Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, said “I don’t think we landed on the best place, but I think this gives businesses significantly more opportunities to stay afloat,” than closing indoor dining altogether, as the city of Baltimore did earlier this week.

She’s particularly concerned about the $500 fine upon the first violation, which she said penalizes businesses, already wounded by the pandemic, for what is likely a patron’s violation.

“They’re trying to be good players, and I just think a little grace under the circumstances, knowing the struggles they are having financially, is permitted,” Fiedler said. “There is a lot happening in the world and in the county, and I think the crosshairs have been put on businesses unfairly.”

Anne Arundel County is not the only area jurisdiction to scale back reopenings.

On Wednesday, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said restricted indoor dining altogether for at least two weeks to address the rising coronavirus metrics.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. also acted this week, requiring that all residents over the age of 2 wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces.

Health officers from both Baltimore City and Baltimore County signed onto a letter with Kalyanaraman to Secretary of Health Fran Phillips asking for state leadership on rollbacks to address rising coronavirus numbers across Maryland. Pittman hinted at the individual action Tuesday during a call with reporters.

Also, the county Department Recreation and Parks said in a news release that because of positive COVID-19 tests, both the Arundel Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis and the North Arundel Aquatic Center in Glen Burnie will remain closed until further notice.

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