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As COVID restrictions ease, Naval Academy midshipmen a boon to local eateries

It felt like 2019 at Acme Bar and Grill in downtown Annapolis last weekend, or at least somewhat like life before a pandemic.

Midshipmen were allowed back to bars and restaurants after May 1 when the Naval District Washington, which covers the Naval Academy, reverted to Health Protection Condition Bravo.

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Health Protection Bravo is the status used when there is a moderate transmission of COVID-19. The Naval Academy had been in the health protection condition in the fall before reverting to HPCON Charlie, which is when there is sustained community transmission. Each status comes with its own restrictions.

But with lower rates of the disease, the Naval District Washington declared on May 1 that Naval installations in its district could go on HPCON Bravo. In addition to the Naval Academy, this also applied to the Naval Support Activity in Annapolis.

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And for midshipmen, who were able to go on liberty, the change meant eating in restaurants and drinking in bars.

For the local bars, this meant a potential increase in traffic.

At Acme Bar and Grill in downtown Annapolis, having midshipmen back in the restaurant meant seeing a portion of sales they had not seen without midshipmen customers, said general manager Bernie O’Brien.

“It’s been great to see our neighbors from down the street we haven’t seen in a while,” O’Brien said.

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With Gov. Larry Hogan announcing that all capacity limitations are lifted and ending the mask mandate, there is expected to be more traffic to the local bars. Masks are still required on public transit, healthcare scenarios and schools.

O’Brien is expecting more traffic, especially at the beginning, he said. Any time a bar has people in it is good for sales.

Midshipmen have always been supportive of his workplace.

They also like to visit Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, with some midshipmen commenting on social media last weekend that they were visiting the establishment.

But the return of the midshipmen did not necessarily affect sales, said Chris Townsend, food and beverage director.

It is too hard to tell if customers are midshipmen, he said, but he acknowledged that midshipmen are a big part of Annapolis.

“On a nice day, we’re always busy,” Townsend said.

Pusser’s does expect to see some bigger crowds during Commissioning Week, Townsend said. Blue Angels often bring afternoon traffic. Then there is Memorial Day Weekend, which is busy.

The grille is also seeing a boost from more things opening, Townsend said, adding it is exciting to have everyone come back again.

Outside of visiting restaurants and bars, the change to HPCON Bravo meant that midshipmen and any service member working at the Naval installations could go to movie theaters, stay in hotels off of the installation — outside of just when necessary due to an outbreak — or visit parks and beaches, according to a flyer from the Naval District Washington.

It also meant being able to go to barbershops and hair salons not located on the installations.

Fort George G. Meade is also in HPCON Bravo. The base announced via Facebook Friday that it would follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, and those who are fully vaccinated — two weeks out from their second vaccination — are allowed to forgo a mask inside and outside on the installation.

However, those who live and work on the base are still encouraged to have a mask handy as it may be required in some situations, according to the Facebook post.

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