Montgomery Co. weighs extending alcohol-serving hours, opening theaters

Some bars and restaurants in Montgomery County, Maryland could push last call later into the night.

For Thursday’s Montgomery County Council meeting, there will be a proposal that would allow establishments to apply for a late-night alcohol sales permit.

Under the proposal, certain bars and restaurants can serve alcohol between 10 p.m. and midnight, but would have to staff or hire a contractor whose sole job is enforcing rules inside the restaurant during those hours.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said during a recent council meeting that businesses could apply if they had a COVID-19 violation warning but not a citation.

“Essentially what we realized is, we can’t be everywhere in these restaurants, and we needed these restaurants to help us in their own self enforcement,” Stoddard said.

With the recent furlough of 50% of Olney Theatre’s staff, Council member Craig Rice asked about opening movie and performance theaters as they struggle.

“Can we talk a little bit about why there seems to be a little bit of a delay in terms of moving forward with our arts and entertainment venues as opposed to some of the other venues?” Rice said.

Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he was allowing movie theaters and performance venues to open at limited capacity — but Montgomery County decided against it.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council members said that they are looking to see what happens in D.C. with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s pilot program for live entertainment at six local venues through October.

“We are very closely watching this pilot in D.C., and if we can see lessons learned from what they are experiencing, we’re willing to make changes and accommodations,” Stoddard said.

He is looking into the difference between movie theaters and performance theaters, so the council can debate a safe reopening.

Stoddard also outlined the varying challenges posed by the two different types of theaters.

“For our arts venues, the length of a performance tends to greatly exceed the length of an average dinner,” Stoddard said. “We know that more times indoors around the same people increases your exposure and increases your risk of infection.”

Stoddard also said there’s a difference between the air-quality requirements for dining and for theater performances.

“The indoor air ventilation for an auditorium or a theater are actually lower than … those of an indoor dining location by about 50%,” he said.

There is also an added challenge with movie theaters, Stoddard said: “When you talk about movie theaters, you add in concessions and the removal of face coverings to consume food and drink.”

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