Officials in Frederick County, Maryland, say they will align with Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent order lifting capacity limits at restaurants and other venues but will keep in place a number of other coronavirus restrictions issued by the county’s board of health.
During a weekly update on the county’s COVID-19 efforts, County Executive Jan Gardner said an executive order issued earlier in the pandemic that limited capacity on a sliding scale based on the size of the facility will be rescinded, because the governor’s new order made many local orders “effectively null and void.”
However, countywide restrictions issued by the Frederick County Board of Health “remain in full force and effect,” Gardner said.
These regulations include:
- Indoor and outdoor gatherings, such as parties, cookouts, parades, celebrations and fundraisers, remain limited to 25 people.
- Gyms, fitness centers, aquatic centers and self-defense schools remain capped at 25% capacity.
- Wedding venues in the county remain capped at 50% capacity and may not serve food at a buffet or any other self-service type of format.
Gardner said she expected the board to meet “in the near future” and could consider lifting or changing those rules. It takes a majority vote of the board to do so. The county’s board of health is made up of the seven members of the county council, the county executive and the county’s public health officer.
Gardner noted that the governor did not give a head’s-up about the changes to county leaders before he announced them during a news conference on Tuesday, and that there remain “a lot of questions and confusion” about some of the rules. She said the county was still doing its homework on what rules would change.
“I have to say the devil’s in the detail; it’s always in the detail, and it can be very confusing to people,” Gardner said.
Because of so many shifting rules, Gardner promised a “full legal review” of all rules and regulations about what’s permitted in the county, which she said she expected to be published by the end of the week.
Regarding Hogan’s action to lift capacity limits at restaurants starting at 5 p.m. Friday, Gardner predicted it wouldn’t change how restaurants in the county operate all that much, since the governor’s order continues a requirement that tables at restaurants be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
“For many restaurants, that capacity limit change will really make no difference because of the 6-foot table separation,” Gardner said. “So to be clear, you’re not going to see restaurants open to 100% because they’re effectively limited by that table separation.”
COVID-19 trends: ‘Caution and optimism’
The latest case numbers of the coronavirus provide a “mix of caution and optimism,” Gardner said.
“While we are making progress with improved health metrics and our vaccination efforts, our hospitalizations and our deaths remain unfortunately higher than we would like them to be,” she said.
In the past week, the county has recorded 229 new coronavirus cases, which represents a leveling off, she said. The positivity rate in the county — the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive — is 3.69%. That’s slightly better than last week but still higher than the statewide average, she noted.
In particular, hospitalizations in the county have fallen from a peak of more than 70, but remain “stubbornly” high in the 30-to-40 range, she said. That’s concerning given worries about the spread of coronavirus variant strains that appear to be more transmissible.
If there’s another surge of cases that result in serious illness, “it is really going to strain the capacity of our health care system, and that’s why hospital numbers remain so much focus of attention.”
Officials in Prince George’s County said Thursday they wouldn’t follow Hogan in lifting capacity limits at restaurants, movie theaters and other establishments entirely, but would impose a 50% cap.
Anne Arundel and Howard counties said they would generally align with the governor’s order. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the county would continue stricter social gathering limits.
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