Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young today announced that restaurants with outdoor dining permits will be allowed to begin serving customers outside starting at 5 p.m. on Friday in accordance with new guidance from Gov. Larry Hogan.
Restaurants that do not have an outdoor dining permit can apply for a temporary permit online starting at 9 a.m. on Monday.
Young said he decided to allow restaurants to resume outdoor dining after consulting with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa and reviewing the city’s COVID-19 data.
Dzirasa said the city has expanded its testing capacity and seen enough of a decrease in the percentage of tests coming back positive to allow restaurants to reopen outdoor dining.
“Based on the increase we have seen in testing capacity recently, coupled with the decrease we have seen in the overall positivity rate of tests, opening outdoor dining facilities can be done safely, provided appropriate guidance is followed,” she said in a statement.
But on the day after Hogan announced that Maryland was ready to begin phase one of the state’s coronavirus recovery plan, Young said that it would be “irresponsible” to relax restrictions in Baltimore at the city’s testing capacity at the time.
Young said then that Baltimore should be conducting between 2,700 to 2,800 tests per day based on guidance from the World Health Organization.
From May 20 to May 26, the most recent seven-day period that Baltimore City’s COVID-19 dashboard has data available, the city conducted an average of 832 tests, about 30 percent of the daily testing goal that Young specified two weeks ago.
The seven-day average positivity rate in Baltimore City (11.5 percent) is lower than the statewide average (12.4 percent), according to state officials.
But the city’s infection rate is still higher than public health experts’ recommendation of 10 percent or lower.
The Baltimore City Health Department has not yet responded to Baltimore Fishbowl‘s request for comment.
Baltimore restaurants that do reopen outdoor dining will need to seat groups at least six feet apart, and seat no more than six people per table unless they live together.
Restaurants will also need to sanitize outdoor tables and chairs between each customer seating, as well as use single-use disposable paper menus or sanitize reusable menus between each seating.
Restaurants must screen staff for COVID-19 symptoms, including checking their temperature daily, and train staff in COVID-19 health and workplace guidelines.
Staff must wear masks or face coverings when interacting with other employees or customers.
Before Young even announced that restaurants in Baltimore City would be able to resume outdoor dining, Alex Smith, founder and president of the Atlas Restaurant Group, announced that several of his restaurants would resume outdoor dining on Friday in accordance with the governor’s orders.
Two of his restaurants, The Bygone and The Elk Room, will remain closed until they are able to reopen their indoor dining room.
The Atlas Restaurant Group’s other establishments include Ouzo Bay, Azumi, Loch Bar, Harbor East Deli, Tagliata, Italian Disco, Ouzo Beach, The Choptank and Maximón.
“We will adhere to all the safety measures put out by the Governors office and have added many of our own to ensure guest and employee safety which is our number one priority. We are humbled and honored to invite you back in as our guests!” Smith wrote on Facebook.
Beyond the safety measures required under Hogan and Young’s orders, the Atlas restaurants will require employees to wear gloves in addition to protective masks; require guests to make a reservation; use virtual menus in addition to disposable menus; and designate specific and separate entrances for the front doorway, restroom and employees.
Despite Baltimore allowing outdoor dining to resume, Union Craft Brewing posted on Facebook that the brewery does “not feel that it is time to re-open our Tap Room or offer outdoor seating.”
In the meantime, Union will continue to operate its dockside pickup and delivery programs.
“Our top priority is always keeping our coworkers and customers safe. Additionally, we want to focus on supporting and supplying our restaurant partners as they reopen.” Union wrote.
“We look forward to welcoming guests back to the brewery when we feel the time is right. Once we fully establish a re-opening plan we will make sure to post on our social channels and get the word out!” they added.
Young said the city will review its policies for size limits on religious gatherings within a week, and policies involving outdoor swimming pools within two weeks. City-operated pools remain closed.
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