Maryland sets new limits on restaurants, bars, religious institutions

Madeleine O'Neill, USA Today//November 18, 2020

Maryland sets new limits on restaurants, bars, religious institutions

Madeleine O'Neill, USA Today//November 18, 2020

Restaurants, bars and other establishments must close their dine-in services by 10 p.m. under new COVID-19 restrictions announced Tuesday.

Gov. Larry Hogan also ordered all retail businesses, religious institutions and other venues to limit capacity to 50 percent.

Hogan announced the latest round of restrictions, which are effective Friday, at a news conference in Annapolis as COVID-19 cases continued to spike across the state.

“We are in a war right now, and the virus is winning,” Hogan said. “I’m pleading with the people of our state to stand together a while longer to help us battle this surging virus.”

Hogan said contact tracing has shown an uptick in cases among Marylanders who were exposed to COVID-19 in bars and restaurants, and that compliance with public health rules falls after 10 p.m.

Fans are no longer allowed at college or professional stadiums or racetracks under the new rules.

Hogan also warned that Maryland hospitals are nearing capacity, particularly in hard-hit western Maryland.

The Maryland Department of Health issued guidance recommending that hospitals avoid elective procedures to keep patient numbers limited.

Hospitals and nursing homes must also limit visitation under the new orders. Visits will be limited to compassionate care and a few other exceptions, and nursing home visitors will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result.

“I realize that this is a very difficult step, especially at this time of year, to be unable to see your grandparents or your loved ones,” Hogan said. “But please know that by refraining from visits at this time, you are helping to keep them safe.”

Nursing home staff will be tested for the virus twice weekly, and residents of nursing homes will be tested once per week.

Hogan encouraged Marylanders to get tested for COVID-19.

“If you are a college student planning on returning home, get a test,” he said. “If you are planning to spend any time around your grandparents, get a test. If you’re returning from any out-of-state travel, get a test.”

Hogan said that he will meet with President-elect Joe Biden and his team on Thursday to discuss the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor has been critical of the federal response to COVID-19, and said at a news conference last week that there is a “little bit of a vacuum” in Washington as President Donald Trump has refused to concede the presidential election.

“I’m very concerned that we’re in the middle of this battle, with people dying and hospitals overflowing in every state in the country,” Hogan said Tuesday. “We have to make sure that there’s a smooth handoff.”

Tuesday’s announcement came as Maryland is seeing an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases. For 14 days in a row, the state has reported more than 1,000 daily cases.

On Saturday, the state reported 2,321 cases — marking the first time Maryland has seen more than 2,000 new cases in a day.

Maryland reported more than 2,000 daily cases for a second time on Tuesday. The state also reported 26 new deaths.

More than 1,000 hospital beds across the state are being used by COVID-19 patients, the highest number since June.

The state’s positivity rate, or the percent of positive tests out of all tests completed, has also jumped to 6.85 percent. The World Health Organization recommends that communities have a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for 14 days before reopening after a shutdown.

Last week, Hogan cut restaurant capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. The Maryland Department of Health also warned against indoor gatherings of 25 or more people and against traveling to states seeing COVID-19 spikes.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney also announced additional restrictions Tuesday. He ordered indoor gatherings in homes to be capped at 10 people, with larger indoor events, such as weddings and religious services, to be capped at 30 percent capacity.

Restaurants in Delaware are also limited to 30 percent capacity for indoor dining.

Pennsylvania also announced new measures as it saw record-breaking case numbers.

Starting Friday, anyone who enters Pennsylvania must be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arriving, or must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival if they cannot take a test or do not get a negative result.