Arundel Center building in Anne Arundel County. Image via Google Street View.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman today announced that, effective 5 p.m. on Friday, he is suspending late-night indoor hours at bars and restaurants, imposing stricter penalties for businesses that violate restrictions and taking other actions to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

The new executive order comes after rising rates of positive tests and coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Anne Arundel County, according to a news release from county officials.

The county’s seven-day average of positive tests has remained below 5 percent for one month. But after reaching a low of 3.25 percent on July 12, that rate has been trending upwards and now sits at 4.23 percent as of Thursday morning, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

The World Health Organization has recommended that states increase their testing efforts until 5 percent or fewer tests come back positive for 14 days in order to reopen.

In Anne Arundel County, each person with COVID-19 is infecting an average of 1.25 others. That infection rate is up from 0.80 on June 19, county officials said.

“Rates of infection are a direct function of our behavior,” Pittman said. “Two weeks after the last reopenings, our rates surged to a level that could eventually require a devastating shutdown of economic and personal activity.”

Pittman said that “we must keep Anne Arundel open,” but to do so he is implementing restrictions to cut down on coronavirus transmission.

“This is a targeted approach driven by our contact tracing review, and our need to protect the working people of this county from further economic stress,: he said in a statement.

Starting Friday, restaurants, bars and other food service establishments must stop indoor operations by 10 p.m. each night.

People will not be allowed to dine at food courts in indoor shopping malls, which will be limited to carry-out only.

Malls can keep pedestrian areas open for access to retail stores and food establishments, but people may not congregate in any indoor areas outside of shops and eateries.

Businesses that do not comply with the restrictions can face a fine of $500 for their first offense, $1,000 for their second offense and $5,000 for their third offense, plus a possible one-year prison sentence, per the county’s order.

Anne Arundel County will also prohibit social gatherings of more than 25 people indoors and more than 50 people outdoors.

Social gatherings include parties, cookouts, concerts, performances, parades, festivals, conventions, fundraisers and other events, the county executive’s order stipulates.

Social gatherings do not include patronizing retail stores, offices, restaurants, fraternal social clubs, youth sports, casinos, or religious or spiritual gatherings at places of worship, according to the order.

The executive order comes after health officers from Maryland’s six largest jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel County, on Monday sent a letter to Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips, asking for the state to renew restrictions on bars, restaurants and other establishments.

Baltimore County on Thursday began requiring all people age 2 and older to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. also called on Gov. Larry Hogan to close indoor dining statewide and only allow outdoor dining, carryout and delivery.

Baltimore City on Friday will suspend indoor dining at restaurants and bars, and will require everyone age 2 and older to wear face coverings in public if they cannot socially distance.

On Wednesday, Hogan said he does not plan to impose any restrictions on businesses. Instead, he said local governments must better enforce existing restrictions.

“With our health metrics currently stable, we do not intend to suddenly close all of our small businesses and put all of those employees out of work because of a lack of enforcement,” Hogan said. “We do not want to crush our economy and punish 95 percent of the Marylanders and the businesses who are doing the right thing because of a failure to control a small segment of willful violators.”

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said the county is instituting its new restrictions because not everyone is wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing, washing their hands and taking other precautions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Today’s actions are necessary because not everybody is practicing these behaviors, and we are seeing increased cases and hospitalizations. Our goal is to open schools and following these new guidelines is a key part of making that happen in the fall.”

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...