Baltimore Sun: Maryland Gov. Hogan holds off on new coronavirus restrictions, defends outdoor dining as some counties tighten guidelines

By Jeff Barker and Christine Condon
December 10, 2020

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a package to soften the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but he ordered no new restrictions on business or social activities and said he would not “be dictated to” by counties taking more aggressive measures.

His comments Dec. 10 highlighted a widening gap between the approaches taken by the Republican governor and some of the state’s largest, Democrat-led jurisdictions as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

Hogan’s update came the day after new Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a Democrat, ordered all dining at city restaurants halted, permitting only carryout, drive-thru and delivery service. The tightened restrictions, which go into effect at 5 p.m. Dec. 11 and do not have an end date, include caps at 25% of capacity for retail and religious institutions, gyms, malls and museums.

Anne Arundel County said Dec. 10 that it also is halting indoor and outdoor dining, starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday until Jan. 13. Retail stores, fitness centers, casinos, nail and hair salons must scale back to 25% capacity, Democratic County Executive Steuart Pittman said.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, has sent a proposal to the county council to close indoor dining at restaurants and food courts and set new capacity limits for large retail stores, amateur sporting events and religious gatherings, starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Prince George’s County is barring indoor dining while still permitting outdoor dining at 50% capacity.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat, and others have called for a coordinated response so counties collectively don’t have a patchwork of restrictions.

Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner, said it’s been “challenging” for localities to make choices to tighten restrictions without the backing of statewide rules from Hogan.

Hogan said the state will continue “to take every single action that we believe is appropriate based on the data and the metrics.”

The governor took issue in particular with those who would ban outdoor dining, saying, “In all of our hundreds of discussions with all the top public health doctors and epidemiologists and experts, they told us in the very beginning that outdoor dining is safe.”

Former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said the city and Anne Arundel County may have chosen to prohibit outdoor as well as indoor dining to send a strong message about potentially risky behavior.

She said outdoor dining can be risky, particularly if it involves people from different households gathering together.

Hogan said the state’s goal was health and safety — and to keep as many small businesses afloat as possible.

One program provides unemployment tax relief for small businesses. Under an executive order, an employer’s 2021 tax rate will be based on their “nonpandemic experience” by excluding the 2020 fiscal year. Instead, the rate will be determined by using fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Hogan also announced forgiveness of $75 million in emergency state business loans. The loans, provided during the first round of economic relief, will be converted to grants.

Donald Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, called the measures “a first good step to mitigate the economic stress many small business are encountering as they struggle to stay operational.”

To read the complete story, visit the Baltimore Sun website.

Source: Baltimore Sun

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