Maryland businesses brace for impact of reimposed COVID-19 restrictions

FILE — People brave cold weather to take advantage of free COVID-19 testing at a Frederick County Health Department clinic on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 in Frederick, Maryland. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

With coronavirus cases showing what Gov. Larry Hogan called a “staggering, spiking” surge this week, restrictions the state had loosened earlier this fall tightened once more starting 5 p.m. Friday.

Here’s what the governor has ordered:

  • Retail businesses, restaurants and churches are all capped at 50% capacity again.
  • Bars and restaurants have a 10 p.m. curfew. They can still serve people, but there’s no seating at bars, restaurants or diners between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Takeout orders will still be permitted during those hours.
  • Fans at race tracks and stadiums for professional or collegiate sporting events are no longer permitted.
  • Visitations at nursing homes and hospitals are, in most cases, suspended. There are a few exceptions for end-of-life care and the parents or guardians of minors.
  • Any elective medical procedure that isn’t urgent or lifesaving is to be avoided.

For Maryland businesses impacted by the tightened COVID-19 restrictions, news that a rise in cases required new rules was understandable, but at the same time, tough for many to hear.

“Every week, it seems like it’s something different. It’s definitely been difficult,” said Jamie Ellis-Ade, general manager at Brewer’s Alley in Frederick.

She said the restrictions limiting the hours for dine-in service will mean a loss in business. “If you come in for dinner at 9, you have one hour to eat your meal and get out, so that’s really difficult,” Ellis-Ade said.

To make up for the expected decline in revenue, Ellis-Ade said they will push takeout service, which will continue at 10 p.m.

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At Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, also in Frederick, the restriction that impacts them is the decrease to 50% capacity for businesses. Store manager Sarah Hyatt said they don’t have to do much to prepare for the change. “It hasn’t been too difficult,” Hyatt said.

She added that, at the height of the pandemic, they took most of their business online. Also, since reopening in the summer, they haven’t been more than half full with customers.

Though she has been surprised by the number of people showing up to the store, she said, compared to this time last year, business is actually up. “I think a lot of people are getting an early start to their holiday shopping,” Hyatt said.

The new restrictions come at a time when Maryland has been shattering records for new case loads and as people get ready for Thanksgiving.

Maryland on Thursday recorded 2,910 new cases — nearly 600 more cases than the previous one-day high, which was only set five days before.

In four of the last six days, the state reported over 2,000 new cases. More than 1,000 new cases have been reported every day for more than two weeks now.

The state’s hospitalization, positivity rates and case per 100,000 people have also been climbing, with the state’s smaller, less populated counties, in western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, hit the hardest.

In fact, hospitals are starting to reach capacity again, with about 85% of the state’s hospital beds already filled. As of Thursday morning, there were 1,192 people hospitalized.

Maryland has had 174,733 confirmed cases of COVID-19. For perspective, 16 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have smaller populations than that.

Hogan said about half the people contacted by Maryland’s contact tracing teams refuse to offer any help, but the contact tracing data the state does have “shows a large uptick in new cases among Marylanders who have recently been exposed in bars and restaurants.”

He also said compliance with health measures, such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing, “drops dramatically” as the day gets later.

“We’ve lost more Marylanders to COVID-19 than we lose to car accidents, gun violence and the flu combined,” the governor said on Tuesday, the day he mandated the new restrictions.

Overall, Maryland’s positivity rate has risen from under 4.4% earlier this month to almost 7.2% now, and public health experts warn the coming weeks are expected to be even more grim.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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