Amid a recent surge in cases, Baltimore’s coronavirus indicators are in the “red” zone indicating restrictions should be tightened.
But Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young today said he is permitting restaurants to resume indoor dining at 25% of capacity starting tomorrow (Friday) at 5 p.m.
In a statement, Young said inaction by Congress, where negotiations over another relief bill are stalled, “forced my hand.”
“I have chosen to act to protect the financial well-being of our city and our residents,” Young said.
“This reopening does not mean that we are in the clear as it relates to the pandemic, but rather that I want to support our residents facing extreme financial hardships as a result of working in the restaurant and service industry,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Young was spotted last night at Peerce’s, a restaurant in Baltimore County. A minor flap erupted when online commenters criticized him for dining indoors, which is permitted in the county, but until today’s announcement forbidden by the mayor in the city.
His dining partners said it wasn’t so.
“He simply did not dine indoors in the county. I was with him and assure you it did not happen,” Baltimore Development Corporation’s former president and CEO Bill Cole wrote, joining the thread.
Councilman Eric Costello chimed in to defend Young, too.
“That is patently false. I was with him as well,” Costello said. “We were seated outside the entire time.”
Red Lights Flashing
Baltimore’s seven-day average for new daily cases is now higher than any point during the pandemic – 146 new cases per day as of July 30, according to the Baltimore City Department of Health.
Two of the city’s five reopening indicators – new cases and deaths – show red stop signs on agency’s coronavirus dashboard.
One of the green indicators, a testing positivity rate below 10% for two weeks, uses a more lenient threshold than the 5% rate recommended by the World Health Organization.
Baltimore’s positivity rate has hovered between 5% and 6% since early July, after dipping slightly below 5% for a few days.
In today’s statement by Young, Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa urged residents to “avoid being in indoor settings around others.”
“I’d like to caution Baltimore City residents to remain vigilant,” she said.
“Keep six feet of distance when around others, wear your face covering over your nose and mouth, avoid being in indoor settings around others, not in your household, for prolonged periods of time and avoid large crowds.”
Pressure from Businesses
Young won praise from public health advocates earlier in the pandemic, when he chose to keep the city closed despite Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s push to ease restrictions and pressure local officials to do the same.
At that time, Young said the data didn’t support reopening.
Today’s decision signals an effort to appease the local business community as the economic impacts of the coronavirus deepen.
“Today’s announcement is a reflection of the difficult choices COVID-19 is forcing us, as a community, to make,” said Shelonda Stokes, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and co-chair of Young’s Small Business Task Force. “The evolution of the disease and its economic impact continues to escalate.”
“The pandemic has been crushing for our restaurants” – Colin Tarbert, BDC.
BDC President Colin Tarbert (Bill Cole’s successor as the city’s top development officer) echoed Stokes, praising Young for the partial re-opening.
“The pandemic has been crushing for our restaurants,” Tarbert said.
“Allowing for limited indoor dining is a step in the right direction to help keep them going during this time of distress,” he said. “Baltimore needs to remain open for business.”
Other Parts of the Order
Young also announced provisions that updated and somewhat tightened Covid-19 restrictions:
• Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 25 people.
• Indoor gatherings will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.
• Religious facilities will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.
• Retail establishments and malls will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.
• Horseshoe Casino Baltimore will be capped at 25% of occupancy.
• Indoor recreation establishments will be capped at 25% of occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.
Specific examples of indoor recreation establishments are:
Bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, roller and ice skating rinks, social and fraternal clubs, and indoor areas of any other establishment subject to Maryland’s admission or amusement tax.