State capacity limits on dining in Maryland are being lifted at 5 p.m. on Friday.
But during a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said that restaurants and bars will still be limited to seated and distanced service only.
The state is also lifting capacity limits on retail businesses, religious facilities, fitness centers, personal services and indoor recreational establishments. Quarantine requirements and other out-of-state travel restrictions are being lifted, too.
“The time is right,” Hogan said.
Hogan’s action does not preclude counties from keeping their existing health restrictions in place, and the announcement surprised at least three county officials. A spokesperson said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman “found out about the major new policy change at the same time as the rest of Maryland.” They declined further comment.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, too, said they “were not informed ahead of time” about the announcement, and were still reviewing it. And a spokesperson for Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner said documents “were emailed to county leaders following [Hogan’s] press conference.”
As of Tuesday evening, Calvert County confirmed it would follow Hogan’s order.
The president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, Marshall Weston, welcomed the news.
“The lifting of capacity limits should provide assurance to the public that the Governor and his team see dining in restaurants as a safe activity,” Weston said in a statement. “We are now looking to confirm that Baltimore City, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties will align with the rest of the state and lift their capacity restrictions as well.”
Laura Houlihan, the owner of Barrel and Crow restaurant in Bethesda, said Hogan made “solid points” to make his decision but does not think Montgomery County will be lifting restrictions on Friday.
“Our numbers are as low as they have [been]; people need to make there own decisions about the comfort level of eating indoors,” Houlihan said. “We have had 25% capacity since Valentine’s Day and my dining room has been full every night.”
Hogan announced the changes as Maryland sees many of its key coronavirus metrics trend in an encouraging direction statewide.
Maryland’s test-positivity rate has dropped to 3.4%, which Hogan said is better than 39 other states’. Maryland’s case rate per 100,000 people has also dropped to 12.9.
Hospitalizations are declining, too: As of Tuesday, they were at 792, the lowest since Nov. 10.
“After just over a year of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, each day brings us closer to seeing a light at the end of this very long tunnel,” Hogan said.
Another notable change will please Orioles fans ahead of Opening Day: Capacity at large venues — both outdoors and indoors — will be expanded to 50%. That includes concert venues and theaters.
Vaccine supply limited for at least 2 more weeks
Masking and social distancing requirements, however, do remain in place statewide.
And regarding the O’s, Hogan acknowledged that the team, Major League Baseball, and state officials will still need to ensure fans are spaced apart by at least 6 feet. “But hopefully it’s going to be a beautiful day, and I look forward to joining with some folks on Opening Day,” he said.
Hogan also updated the state on its vaccination efforts on Tuesday. A fifth mass-vaccination site will open March 25 in Hagerstown, to serve Western Marylanders. Additional mass sites are also being considered, in anticipation of a boost in supply.
That likely won’t be for at least another two weeks, though. During a call with the White House on Tuesday, Hogan said, he was told that the vaccine supply will remain about the same for the next two weeks “before we begin to see a significant increase.”
WTOP’s Ken Duffy contributed to this report.
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