Maryland’s statewide mask mandate and many capacity restrictions on businesses and venues have been lifted, and patrons are flocking back to multiple establishments, including those on Main Street in downtown Bel Air.
“Hopefully, everything’s opening back up,” Richard Lynch, co-owner of the Buontempo Bros. pizza shop at Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, said Monday afternoon.
Lynch, whose business is about a block and a half north of the Harford County Courthouse, noted that he saw a number of people downtown Monday morning as a jury trial began — courts across the state began resuming jury trials and all other operations in late April as the number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland plummeted and the rate of vaccinations increased.
“Everything’s coming back together, people are going to be on Main Street again — it’s a beautiful thing,” Lynch said.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced late last week that the statewide mask mandate would be lifted as of Saturday, in line with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID do not have to wear masks, whether inside or outside. Maryland went further, lifting the mandates even among those yet to be vaccinated.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman followed that local restrictions on businesses would also be lifted, concurring with the governor’s orders.
People still must wear masks in schools, child care and health care facilities, as well as on public transit and airlines, according to local and state officials. Local governments and individual businesses can opt to keep mask requirements in place.
Teena Trageser, who works at the Full Heart SouLutions boutique on South Main Street, said she and her colleagues were “a little nervous” on Saturday with the lifting of the state’s mask mandate.
She said shoppers can keep wearing masks in the store, or not if they don’t want to do so, stressing that “we just want to make people feel comfortable.”
“It’s just your personal preference and what you feel comfortable with,” said Trageser, noting that she had her mask “off and on,” depending on how many people were in the store.
“Most people were pleasant and happy ... no negative feedback, either way, so it was a good day for us,” she said Monday.
Customers Valerie McCann and Lainey Rives, both of Bel Air, were in Full Heart SouLutions Monday afternoon. Rives noted that she and McCann work at The Lodge restaurant in Hickory, and that Rives has worked there since the pandemic started last spring, as the restaurant focused on carry-out orders and later allowed indoor dining. Rives said she feels “completely comfortable” with the current situation.
McCann said she feels “still a little bit uneasy, until I get fully vaccinated, but it’s not too bad.” She said she is not “too uncomfortable,” since as most businesses are keeping their doors open to allow better airflow, especially with the approach of summer.
Even with restrictions lifted, Glassman, as well as Hogan, urged people who have not been vaccinated to do so, as has the Harford County Health Department.
“The [Harford County] health department still believes it is extremely beneficial for face coverings to be worn indoors for unvaccinated people,” according to a statement on the agency’s Facebook page.
“Similar to healthy eating, getting adequate sleep and exercising, these behaviors are beneficial to overall health, but remain a choice, not a mandate,” the statement continued.
People age 12 and older can get a Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and the health department is hosting Pfizer Clinic Day from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Woodbridge Center, 1401 Pulaski Highway in Edgewood. Anyone who wants a vaccine that day should register for an appointment online via the state’s registration site.
Harford County Public Schools also is partnering with the county health department and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health to host vaccine clinics for students 12 and older at middle and high schools next Monday, May 24. The vaccines are optional, and students must have written permission from a parent or guardian. More information, including registration links, is available on the HCPS website.
County health officials noted Tuesday, on the agency Facebook page, that 161 people in Harford who had not been vaccinated got COVID-19 over the past 10 days, and “most were not wearing masks.”
The Town of Bel Air will not require people to wear masks inside municipal buildings, although officials reserve the right to reinstate a mask mandate if COVID-19 case numbers go up, according to a Monday news release.
”We do ask that individuals make the best decision based on their vaccination status,” the town said in the statement.
“The Town of Bel Air has lifted this requirement; however, [it] maintains the authority to reinstate the mask mandate if the town or county COVID-19 numbers increase,” officials continued. ”The Harford County Health Department continues to advise that unvaccinated people continue to mask, as the virus has not gone away.”
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Aegis reporter James Whitlow contributed to this article.