Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday that restaurants can begin serving customers after 10 p.m. starting Monday, lifting a curfew that was put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The new executive order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Bars and restaurants must continue to limit indoor dining to 50% capacity, a measure intended to allow social distancing and decrease potential exposure to the coronavirus.
Hogan issued the curfew in November amid a troubling wave in coronavirus cases as the holidays were approaching. The Republican said Thursday in a statement that the decision to drop it came as data showed improvement after the holidays.
On average, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have declined after a devastating surge earlier this month. State health officials reported well over 2,000 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, and 40 more deaths caused by the disease. That number was down from a mid-January high that saw more than 3,700 cases reported for two days in a row. Hospitalizations have also declined a bit after peaking at 1,952 on Jan. 12.
As usual, Hogan is allowing individual jurisdictions to impose stricter measures. Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties said they would follow Hogan’s lead.
In a statement, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican, welcomed the change. “This week also happens to be Harford County Restaurant Week, and I encourage Marylanders to support our great local restaurants this week and beyond,” he said.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said his decision to follow Hogan’s lead was meant in part to prevent confusion.
“I’ve consistently said that a patchwork approach to reopening only confuses residents, puts businesses who are just miles apart on unequal playing fields, and limits the public health impact of any individual jurisdiction’s decisions,” the Democrat said in a statement. “By continuing to align with the state, Baltimore County is providing clarity for our residents — though these steps do not mean we can let our guard down.”
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott only just reintroduced on-premises dining last week after a six-week shutdown. A spokesperson for his office said Friday that the city would follow the state in lifting the curfew.
Vickie Keithley, owner of Grumpy’s Bar and Grille in Aberdeen, responded to the news with some ambivalence. While the 10 p.m. curfew has been tough for her business, she said that people who stayed later in the evening tended to drink more. “Then they get to where they don’t think it’s important to wear the mask, and you got to holler at ‘em,” she said.
Breaking News Alerts
Still, she said: “I will definitely be staying open later.”
Marshall Weston, CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, praised Hogan’s decision, saying it would help businesses and workers generate income.
“We appreciate that Governor Hogan is actively managing this crisis and recognizing that after several weeks of improving COVID metrics that it made sense to lift this restriction,” he said.
The Columbia-based trade association had previously sued in Baltimore and other jurisdictions in an attempt to overturn bans on indoor dining.
Hogan also announced that the state has distributed an additional $80 million in economic assistance for the hospitality industry in recent weeks, including $30 million for restaurants. Businesses can apply for grants through their local jurisdictions; funding can be used for rent, payroll and equipment such as tents and heaters to expand outdoor dining. An additional $50 million has been set aside for grants to hotels.
Baltimore Sun Media reporters S. Wayne Carter Jr., Bob Blubaugh, Ana Faguy and Olivia Sanchez and Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich, Alex Mann and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.