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Howard County to reopen outdoor dining at restaurants beginning at 5 p.m. Friday

Howard County will follow Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s guidance in opening restaurants for outdoor seating amid the coronavirus pandemic beginning Friday.

County Executive Calvin Ball announced Thursday that restaurants and bars that do not currently have outdoor seating will receive guidance in the coming days.

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“Howard County has an incredible restaurant and bar community, and we want these businesses to be able to reopen safely and effectively,” Ball said in a statement. “Outdoor seating is a meaningful first step, and we’re hopeful that if our data trends continue in the right direction we can resume more activities. Our team is working with our health department and local businesses to adjust and provide guidance on how to accommodate those without outdoor seating currently.”

Restaurants also are allowed to continue curbside pickup and delivery services. If a restaurant is offering curbside pickup, those operations must remain separate and separate staff must be assigned to each operation without crossover, Ball said.

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According to Ball’s guidance, an outdoor table may have no more than six people. Tables must have 6 feet between them, and self-serve buffets are not allowed. There must be clear signage to maintain social distancing, including entrances and exits.

“Reopening of our restaurants is an indication of the perseverance and adaptability of Howard County businesses and residents to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Howard County Health Officer Maura Rossman said in a statement. “Continued social distancing practices will be necessary to maintain our successful efforts.”

Several sanitation regulations must also be in place including hand sanitizer or hand-washing facilities at entrances and exits for guests, disposable menus and disposable containers for condiments so there are no shared contact between different customer groups. Tables and chairs must be sanitized after each use, and restaurants must provide hand-washing stations in outdoor area for employees to wash their hands.

Restaurant employees who interact with customers will be required to wear face coverings or utilize other protective equipment, such as plexiglass barriers. All employees will complete a health screening prior to their shift in line with the recommended guidance from governor. There also should be dedicated staff to handle payments, separate from those waiting tables and those busing tables.

The county also revisited all food consumption restrictions since Hogan’s announcement Wednesday, and has decided to lift food consumption restrictions for faith institutions.

“We are very pleased to hear that Howard County will be lifting their restrictions on faith institutions regarding food consumption,” Mary Ellen Russell with the Archdiocese of Baltimore said in a statement.

“We are grateful to County Executive Ball and his team for working closely with our community and many others to ensure the health and safety of all while respecting essential elements of our faith traditions. These are unchartered waters for all in leadership, and it is essential that we continue to work together for the common good.”

Howard County is set to loosen these restrictions beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.

Earlier this week, Ball announced the county would enter the first phase of reopening at 7 a.m. Friday, including allowing retailers, barbers and hair salons to operate at 50% capacity, and religious institutions will be permitted to hold outdoor services of up to 250 people. Indoor religious services are still limited to a maximum of 10 people.

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