Decision on indoor dining ban in Anne Arundel Co. expected Wednesday

Another day of testimony on Anne Arundel County’s proposed indoor dining ban concluded Tuesday without a decision from Judge William Mulford II.

Four restaurant owners had challenged County Executive Steuart Pittman’s indoor dining ban, which was announced on Dec. 10 and set to start Dec. 16. The ban has been postponed due to an injunction pending this week’s hearing.

Before the hearing paused for lunch Tuesday, the judge said he would be unable to render a decision until at least Wednesday due to the testimony remaining.

By that point, Pittman had yet to offer his testimony.

The hearing was conducted, for the most part, via Zoom and teleconference.

Mulford set a deadline for his decision: the close of business on Dec. 30. However, he said he will try to make his opinion public by midday.

In his testimony later Tuesday, Pittman said multiple times that his goal for announcing the indoor dining ban, which went further than the state’s restrictions on indoor dining announced in the late fall, was to save the lives of Anne Arundel County residents.

The decisions “were based on my concern for protecting public health, public safety, saving lives and protecting hospitals from being overwhelmed,” Pittman said in his testimony.

The county executive said there is no way to know how many lives a restriction on indoor dining would save or how many COVID-19 cases it would prevent. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “But we have evidence closing indoor dining down would push those numbers down.”

Currently, indoor dining is allowed in Maryland, with a 50% capacity cap.

Mulford said he appreciated how difficult the pandemic-related decisions have been for Pittman.

“Your decision is not easy and neither is mine,” the judge said. “So I just want you to know that whatever I do doesn’t change in any way the fact that I know the decisions you have to make, I would hope you understand the decisions that I have to make.”

Much of the testimony on Monday dealt with the economic effects of restricting county restaurants to carryout and outdoor dining only, especially in the cold winter months.

Restaurant owners in Annapolis and Severna Park, Maryland, contested Pittman’s emergency order, prompting the hearing.

In similar recent rulings, judges in Baltimore and Prince George’s County upheld government-mandated indoor dining bans. The Prince George’s County indoor dining ban went into effect Dec. 16. Montgomery County’s indoor dining ban was affirmed by a circuit court judge Dec. 23.

Attorney Edward Hartman, of Annapolis, is representing the restaurants in Anne Arundel County, and he also represented the Montgomery County restaurants in their recent challenge.

Outdoor dining in Anne Arundel County is currently allowed, as long as shelters have enough open-air access.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

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