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Baltimore to lift 1-hour limit on city dining as coronavirus numbers decline

A one-hour time limit on restaurant dining in Baltimore will be lifted at 6 a.m. Monday, Mayor Brandon Scott announced, citing the city’s rapidly declining coronavirus caseload.

Additionally, the city’s restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic will be further refined. In place of defined limits of no more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, the city will cap gatherings at a percentage of a space’s total capacity.

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All indoor gatherings, including indoor dining, will be limited to 25% of capacity. Outdoor dining is limited to 50% capacity.

The city’s hourlong limit on dining has been in place since Scott allowed restaurants to reopen to dining four weeks ago. Some health experts and restaurantgoers questioned whether the policy made dining safer or simply created a hassle for restaurants. Others felt the limits represented a compromise for restaurants eager to reopen.

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Sign-in sheets quickly appeared at the doors of restaurants across the city to track patrons’ stays. Restaurants need to continue using the sign-in sheets, Scott said, in case contact tracing is necessary.

The city will place cap gatherings at a percentage of a space’s total capacity, announced by Mayor Scott.

In his remarks Wednesday, Scott touted the reduction in coronavirus cases in Baltimore. New cases are down 48% from levels four weeks ago. Cases surged to record high numbers following the winter holidays but have dropped precipitously since then.

City Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said that the easing of restrictions “comes at a time when we’re cautiously optimistic” about downward trends in coronavirus cases, as well as declining positivity rates. Still, she noted that a shortage of vaccines and the appearance of viral variants mean that Baltimoreans should remain cautious and continue to wear face coverings.

The following guidelines take effect Monday:

  • Restaurants, bars and breweries: One-hour maximum time limit is removed. Restaurants must continue to maintain sign-in sheets for customers and staff.
  • Fitness: Gym classes are allowed at 25% occupancy or 10 people, whichever is higher.
  • Live performances: Permitted as long as performers wear masks and maintain a 6-foot distance. Adult entertainment continues to be off-limits.
  • Organized sports: Amateur sporting events, including high school games and practices, are allowed. All participants should wear face coverings. Tournaments with teams from outside Maryland are prohibited. Indoor sporting events are limited to 25% capacity with no more than 50 people per activity area.

Baltimore’s coronavirus restrictions have been consistently stricter than much of the state’s. Scott, a Democrat, made the move to ban on-premise dining during his first week in office in early December, and the ban remained in place for six weeks as cases spiked following Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Restaurants were allowed to continue takeout and delivery service during the ban, but the limit was criticized widely by restaurant owners and their employees, who have been operating under various restrictions since March. The Restaurant Association of Maryland sued the city in December. While acknowledging the hardships faced by small businesses, Baltimore Circuit Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill upheld the city’s restrictions, calling them “a matter of life and death.”

The hospitality industry generally has taken a beating during the pandemic. On Wednesday, Scott also announced $8 million in state grant funds to help hotels impacted by the pandemic. Visit Baltimore will manage the funds, and accept applications starting Thursday.

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