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Baltimore Mayor Scott defends dining ban as carefully made, based on scientific input

"These restrictions are for the health and safety of our community," said Scott.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott defended his decision to bar all indoor and outdoor dining in the city to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, inviting several city restaurateurs to speak at a news conference Friday.

The restriction, which took effect at 5 p.m. Friday, bans restaurants from serving patrons indoors or out. Carryout, drive-through and delivery service still will be permitted.

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Scott and the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, pleaded with residents to avoid any activities that require them to remove their masks, including eating and drinking, with people outside their households, while trying to appeal to residents to support restaurants by ordering takeout.

Dzirasa echoed a statement Thursday by White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci that carryout orders are a “neighborly obligation.”

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Restaurant owners who appeared outside City Hall at Scott’s news conference called on city residents to order food directly from their businesses. That saves eateries from paying fees to third-party delivery services. They also asked people to buy gift cards, preferably to be spent once the pandemic is over. Samantha Claassen, owner of Golden West Cafe in Hampden, urged people to share meal photos and positive experiences with carryout on social media and encourage their friends to order.

“This is the best thing for everyone,” she said.

Scott said he carefully considered his decision to halt indoor and outdoor dining for an undetermined period, a call he made Wednesday on his first full day in office.

He chided restaurants that have set up outdoor tents that are closed on all sides and not ventilated.

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“That’s not outdoor dining,” the Democratic mayor said. “That’s indoor dining.”

Scott and county executives who have made similar moves this week to suspend table service have called on Gov. Larry Hogan to follow suit, but the Republican governor declined to strengthen restrictions statewide. In addition to Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County announced dining will be banned by the middle of next week. Montgomery County is considering a proposal to bar indoor dining and Prince George’s County is also stopping it.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat, and others have called for a coordinated, statewide response so counties don’t have a patchwork of restrictions.

Hogan said Thursday he would not “be dictated to” by counties taking more aggressive measures, as they have the power to do. Hogan said the state will continue “to take every single action that we believe is appropriate based on the data and the metrics.”

Scott said Friday that his decisions were guided by medical professionals at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical System, and he noted the governor also has been advised by officials from Hopkins.

“My decision was made off advice and the science they gave me,” Scott said. “He’s [Hogan] allowed the locals to make their decision, and I made my decision. The governor will make a decision as he sees fit. This is not a political disagreement or argument.”

Some restaurant owners were dismayed by Scott’s decision, expressing disappointment after Wednesday’s announcement, in light of their investment in tents, heaters, lights and ventilation systems in an effort to continue offering table service. Others already had decided on their own to switch back to just carryout and pickup service in light of the growing number of coronavirus cases.

Scott also announced Friday the addition of a coronavirus testing site at the Zeta Center in Northwest Baltimore. The site, which already has opened at the senior center, will expand testing in Baltimore’s 21215 ZIP code, one of the areas of the city hit hardest by COVID-19.

Northwest Baltimore has been a source of concern for city officials since the pandemic began, as cases there exceeded other parts of the city. A drive-in testing site opened at Pimlico Race Course in April under a partnership with neighboring Sinai Hospital, but closed in October.

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