Last week, Harford County health and government officials said they were unaware of any local restaurants or bars that had been ignoring the state’s orders regarding indoor dining. That came on the heels of Gov. Larry Hogan giving a stern warning asking local leaders statewide to more strictly enforce public health requirements.
This week, health officers in the state’s five most populous counties and Baltimore City asked the state health department to renew restrictions on bars, restaurants and other establishments, in an attempt to curb a recent spike on COVID-19 cases, particularly among young people. Harford’s health officer was not among those who signed onto the letter.
Mike Ricci, a spokesperson for the governor, told the Baltimore Sun “local leaders continue to have the flexibility to make those decisions as they see fit,” under the state’s recovery plan.
Neither the local leaders, or the governor, it seems, wants to make that unpopular decision to again restrict indoor dining or gatherings in bars, even if it means protecting the public health.
We understand the governor’s rationale. He has given great latitude to jurisdictions to open at their own pace, so long as they don’t exceed what’s allowed by the state. Reversing course for everyone, when there are counties like Harford where, thus far, there have been no major issues, would not be fair to those who have been following the rule.
Business owners shouldn’t be punished for what’s happening elsewhere. Local leaders have the power to strengthen restrictions in their counties if they truly believe that is what is necessary.
While this has not yet become an issue in Harford County, we would hope that County Executive Barry Glassman would have the willpower to tighten restrictions if the data were to show a sudden, reversal of the trends here. No, it wouldn’t be popular if he did, but the right decisions aren’t always popular.
Glassman fought harder than most for restaurants and small businesses to re-open earlier in the pandemic, if the numbers supported strengthening restrictions to ensure public health, we would hope he would display that same conviction.
Hopefully, Harford County residents and business owners will continue to be smart and adhere to CDC guidelines and state orders to ensure their health and that of others.
Thus far, Harford’s number of confirmed cases and the deaths related to the disease have remained, comparatively low versus similar jurisdictions. As of Tuesday, there were 1,452 confirmed cases and 63 confirmed deaths due to coronavirus, according to state data. The county’s positivity rate of 3.94% is below the statewide average of 4.49%, according to Tuesday’s data.
Still, the county’s health department has consistently been messaging that despite local numbers being low and restaurants, stores and other businesses have reopened, it does not mean that people are not at risk of contracting COVID-19.
If you’re indoors, be it at a retail store or restaurant, you are still required to wear a mask unless you are eating. And all staff must wear face coverings while working and interacting with customers. Restaurants and bars should be ensuring physical distance of 6 feet between patrons, all of whom should be seated, not standing. Capacity for indoor dining remains at 50%.
Should you find yourself at a restaurant or retail establishment where people aren’t following those protocols, report it to the health department. While we don’t want to see any businesses forced to be closed and lose money, we also have no sympathy for those that aren’t taking the rules — and therefore, other people’s health ― seriously.
By making these sacrifices now, we can move toward a return to a more normal lifestyle sooner than later.