As coronavirus infections continue to tick downward, the Montgomery County Council voted to lift a ban on indoor dining on Tuesday, allowing restaurants in the Maryland county to reopen their dining rooms — with strict capacity limits — by Valentine’s Day.
The executive order approved by the council on Tuesday caps indoor dining to 25% capacity, and limits indoor meals at no more than 90 minutes. The easing of restrictions goes into effect Sunday, Feb. 14, at 7 a.m.
The vote was 7-2. County Council members Will Jawando and Craig Rice voted no.
In addition to improving case numbers, several council members pointed to the fact that all of Montgomery County’s neighboring jurisdictions, including D.C., have in recent weeks already lifted restrictions on indoor dining.
“I think it’s prudent to open under these particular restrictions, understanding the economic impact, and the fact that we are the outliers — and then revisit if we need to,” said Council member Nancy Navarro, who represents District 4.
Montgomery County cracked down on indoor dining late last year — along with most other jurisdictions in the D.C. area — amid an uptick in coronavirus cases and fears of a holiday surge.
However, as other areas have lifted their bans over the past few weeks, Montgomery County had held firm on limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery only.
At-Large Council member Hans Riemer called the county’s indoor dining ban “an extreme measure for extreme levels of transmission,” adding, “that’s why I strongly supported it over the holidays.”
But he said numbers had improved enough to lift the ban with strict capacity limits in place. “We have prevented catastrophic outcomes; our hospitals are not overloaded,” Riemer said.
Jawando, an at-large council member, said his “no” vote was difficult, but he said the county’s action amounted to sending mixed messages, since public health officials have said indoor dining remains risky.
“I’ve spoken with many public health officials, including our own, who have said that this is not a safe activity,” Jawando said. “The idea that we would be doing an order to encourage people to go out on Valentine’s Day … it flies in the face of public health guidance.”
Rice, who represents District 2, said he remains “very concerned about the people who are working in these restaurants,” most of whom are Black and Latino.
“I don’t know if the risk is worth it,” Rice said of the vote to approve indoor dining.
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