With infection rates rising, hospital beds filling and the holiday season fast approaching, Maryland counties and the City of Baltimore are moving quickly to reimpose restrictions on commerce and social gatherings.
Leaders of several counties said Thursday they were motivated to act not only by troubling COVID-19 metrics but also their belief that virus-weary Marylanders are letting their guard — and their masks — down, especially in family situations they regard to be safe.
In jurisdictions run by Democrats, the steps taken by local leaders are more sweeping. In Republican-led Harford County, the moves are more modest. Other jurisdictions are said to be monitoring developments and could add new restrictions in the coming days or weeks.
Maryland’s smaller counties, by and large, are opting for the status quo.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) announced Thursday that capacity at bars and restaurants will be reduced from 50% to 25%. The number of people allowed inside gyms and fitness centers is also being cut in half — from 50% to 25%, limited to one person per 200 square feet.
The same spacing limits will be applied to social gatherings — with a maximum of 10 people for indoor get-togethers and 25 for outdoor meet-ups.
“It is time to hunker down,” she told residents. “We are in the midst of another surge.”
Alsobrooks also said the county will increase its enforcement of regulations intended to avoid crowding at grocery stores, big box stores and other retailers — capped at 50%. “I go into those stores and, in some instances, I’m concerned. They are full of people,” she said.
Alsobrooks called the increase in hospitalizations “alarming.”
She also expanded the county’s mask mandate, saying all residents need to wear facial coverings whenever they leave their residences unless they are vigorously exercising. Previously, the order required facial coverings only indoors.
The new restrictions go into effect this Sunday at 5 p.m.
County Executive Steuart Pittman Jr. (D) announced on Thursday a new limit on social gatherings similar to that in Prince George’s — 10 people for indoor events and 25 people outdoors. The new cap is effective on Friday.
Youth athletics are suspended for all county fields and facilities beginning on Monday.
Maximum capacity for indoor dining operations in bars and restaurants will be reduced from 50 percent to 25 percent beginning on Friday.
“Waiting is not an option,” said Pittman. “Like our neighboring jurisdictions, we are acting now to slow the spread that will inevitably lead to a hospitalization surge at a time when our hospitals are operating near capacity. This is a more dangerous moment than we faced in the spring, so there is no question that we must take action.”
The county and the City of Annapolis are considering boosting enforcement of coronavirus-related orders, Pittman and Mayor Gavin Buckley said.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) announced earlier in this month that the city is moving back to Phase 1. That order went into effect on Thursday.
In addition, masks are now required for all outdoor activity. They remain mandatory when inside business establishments.
The move to Phase 1 means businesses, restaurants and malls are limited to 25% capacity indoors.
Indoor dining must cease by 11 p.m. Bars that do greater liquor sales than food can sell prepackaged items for consumption at home.
Space permitting, indoor recreational facilities such as bowling alleys and pool rooms can be open at 25% capacity. The same limit applies to most outdoor recreational facilities, such as golf courses and marinas.
The County Council approved new rules on Tuesday that reduce capacity limits for restaurants, retail outlets and personal services businesses to 25% — down from 50% previously. The reduced capacity limits also apply to religious facilities.
In addition, public gatherings are limited to 25 people. The cap applies to parties, receptions and festivals.
The order went into effect the day it was adopted.
At personal services establishments — such as hair salons, barbershops, massage parlors and nail salons — capacity is capped at 25% or 25 people, whichever is fewer.
Last week, the county ended a program that allowed some bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to dine-in customers after 10 p.m.
Council member Gabriel Albornoz (D) said the new rules were necessary because of the rising number of cases in the county, which he called “stark and sobering.”
County Executive Barry Glassman (R) announced a short list of changes Thursday in response to the state’s surge in infections and hospitalizations.
All county facilities will close to the public effective Friday at 5 p.m. Drop boxes for documents and payments will be reactivated at the county administration building in Bel Air.
All indoor parks and recreation facilities and programming will be suspended.
Organized outdoor activities on county fields, including tournaments, are also suspended. County parks will remain open with social distancing requirements in place.
County government employees who are authorized to telework will do so until further notice.
Harford Transit will return to modified service.
In an interview, Glassman said he took action on tournaments because they involved out-of-state teams. But he wasn’t ready follow the counties that are implementing broader orders.
“If we do something, I like to do stuff that’s enforceable,” he said. “Residential gatherings and these arbitrary numbers — whether it’s 10 or 25 — really how enforceable is that.”
Glassman called the uptick in cases “scary” but “not unexpected,” given the warnings he has received from public health experts.
“Most of my advisers have been telling me this was coming,” he said. “We have stockpiled in preparation for this.”
On Monday, county leaders capped indoor dining, outdoor amusements and indoor fitness facilities at 50%, effective Nov. 10.
Casinos, arcades and malls are also limited to 50%.
Admittance to the county office complex will be by appointment only.
In a letter to residents, Board of County Commissioners President Jacob C. Shade (R) said the panel will “monitor this closely over the next few weeks and will re-assess our situation on Monday, Nov. 30. We ask that citizens and businesses be extra vigilant during this time to improve our health metrics to allow us to expand our reopening.”
Leaders in some other jurisdictions are considering or preparing to issue new restrictions.
Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) will announce new public health efforts on Friday morning.
Leaders in Frederick and Howard counties said they too are monitoring the day-to-day COVID-19 metrics and will adopt new restrictions as needed to slow the spread of the virus.
Charles County Health Officer Dr. Dianne Abney is urging leaders to impose tighter public health restrictions. “Over the last few days, we’ve actually had the highest number of cases than we’ve ever had in Charles County,” she told Charles County Commissioners.
At an emergency meeting of the commissioners on Wednesday, Abney urged adoption of a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 25.
Top local officials across the state stressed that simple steps — wearing a mask, avoiding crowds and travel, and frequent hand-washing — reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.
Maryland’s seven-day average of infections per 100,000 residents hit 22.1 on Thursday, its highest total ever.
Some material in this report was provided by our news partners at WTOP.