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Howard County to distribute more business relief grants, follow Maryland’s tightened coronavirus restrictions

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Thursday announced new relief grants for businesses and said the county would follow Maryland’s newly tightened coronavirus restrictions as the number of cases continues to rise.

On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a tightening of restrictions on restaurants and discouraged large family gatherings and parties. Under the governor’s order, restaurants must now scale back from 75% capacity to 50% for indoor dining. Hogan also “strongly” discouraging indoor gatherings of more than 25 people, especially as the holiday season approaches.

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At Thursday’s news conference at the Hudson Coastal restaurant in Fulton, Ball said Howard County finds itself at a “difficult and pivotal point” in controlling the spread of the virus. Coronavirus numbers are increasing throughout the country, including Maryland and Howard County.

On Nov. 5, the county reported its second-highest number of daily positive COVID-19 cases with 82 confirmed cases. As of Wednesday, according to the Maryland Department of Health, Howard County has a seven-day rolling positivity rate of 4.27% — the highest in the county since July 3. The seven-day rolling average new-case rate on Wednesday was 18.95 per 100,000 — a number that is the highest in the county since the pandemic began and one that has increased for nine straight days.

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However, both of those metrics are below the statewide numbers of Maryland, as the state reported on Wednesday a seven-day positivity rate of 5.65% and a weekly rolling case-rate of 22.82 per 100,000.

As of Thursday, there have been 6,581 confirmed coronavirus cases in Howard County, with 125 reported deaths.

“We share [Gov. Larry Hogan’s] concerns about the rising case counts around the entire state,” Ball said in response to a question Thursday. “While several other jurisdictions are having increasing numbers above ours, we are closely monitoring [our numbers]. … We continue to be willing to take whatever actions are necessary to keep our community safe.”

Ball said the county’s restaurants will operate at 50% capacity for now, citing that many of the infections in Howard County are from gatherings with family and friends. He also urged county residents to reconsider their holiday plans.

“I know the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and throughout December, are often a time to bring families together, families from all across the region, the country and the world. This is not the year for that,” Ball said. “This is the year to have small gatherings with people with whom you live, to drop off food and to try to exercise, although it will be difficult, the physical distancing and many of the measures in place to keep our numbers down and keep people safe.”

Several other jurisdictions in Maryland have gone further in scaling back coronavirus restrictions. On Thursday, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced that, starting at 5 p.m. Friday, social gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Bars and restaurants will be scaled back to 25% capacity starting at 5 p.m. Nov. 20. The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday approved County Executive Marc Elrich’s order limiting gatherings — including at stores, indoor restaurants and fitness centers — to 25% capacity.

Ball also said Thursday that the second round of the HoCo RISE Collaborative grants, which uses federal CARES Act funding, will assist hundreds of Howard County businesses amid the pandemic. The HoCo RISE Collaborative includes five independent workgroups that provide recommendations to the administration in five areas in terms of coronavirus recovery: jobs and the economy, workforce development, health care, quality of life and government response.

The first round of the program provided 650 grants, totaling $1.6 million, to Howard County businesses, including restaurants, farms, small retailers and child care facilities.

Those same businesses will receive between $3,000 and $6,000 in the second round of funding, which is also open for other businesses to apply.

“The end of the year is critical for our businesses, and we’re here to ensure they have the best chance to not only survive these challenging times but on the other side thrive,” Ball said.

In addition to the HoCo RISE Collaborative grants, Ball said restaurants in Howard County will also receive between $10,000 and $17,000 from the state’s $50 million restaurant relief fund. A total of $2.5 million will be distributed to Howard County restaurants, which comes from Hogan’s $250 million economic relief package.

“Unfortunately, the statistic is that one in three mom-and-pop restaurants are going to fail,” said Tricia Hudson, owner of Hudson Coastal, which received some of the funding. “We will not become a statistic. We feel that Howard County has our back. We feel community support and, as fellow small business owners, we’re going to support each other.”

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Ball also said Howard County Chamber of Commerce organizations with business memberships would receive $10,000 grants.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding that supports health-related costs aims to assist with salaries for emergency management and services dedicated to mitigating and responding to the pandemic; acquisition and distribution of supplies; expenses for public safety measures; communications and enforcement; and disinfection of public areas.

In the beginning of June, Ball announced the county received $57 million in CARES Act funding from the state of Maryland. Most of the money went to supporting health-related expenses, but $5.7 million was designated for relief funding grants to help businesses respond and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The first round of funding provided $1.6 million to local businesses, while another $1.5 million was distributed to 40 Howard County nonprofits in October as part of the county’s Rise to the Challenge initiative.

“It’s gratifying to see money and things we do in Washington come to the local level, and that’s what we’re talking about here today,” U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said at the news conference. Ruppersberger represents Maryland’s District 2 in Congress, which includes portions of Howard County. “Money can go to small businesses, and it really makes a difference. There’s a lot going on in Washington, unfortunately not always so good, but the election is over now, and we’re going to move forward on behalf of our country.”

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