Baltimore to restrict indoor dining, require everyone to wear a mask in public

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

Starting Friday, Baltimore City will once again restrict indoor dining at restaurants and bars and require residents age 2 and older to wear a face covering anytime they leave their homes and social distancing is not possible, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced today.

The new guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19 take effect at 5 p.m. on July 24. Restaurants and bars will still be able to have diners outdoors with socially distanced seating, and offer carryout and delivery.

“These restrictions are being reinstated to protect the health and well-being of Baltimore City residents,” Young said.

State orders currently in effect only require masks to be worn on public transportation, in retail businesses and at food establishments. Under the state’s recovery plan, restaurants are able to host indoor dining at 50 percent capacity and with restrictions.

Requirements include seating customers at least six feet apart and no more than six people at a table unless they are members of the same household; having customers and staff wear masks; disinfecting tables, chairs and other high-touch surfaces; and screening staff for COVID-19,

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said these new regulations come as the city is seeing troubling trends related to the coronavirus.

On the week of July 4, the city was averaging a little more than 63 cases per day. That figure has since doubled, reaching an average of 134 cases per day as of July 19, she said.

And while the city has met its goal of testing an average of 2,000 people per day, the rate of positive results has increased, indicating that health officials may not have fully captured the spread of the disease.

On July 4, the rate of positive tests was 5.3 percent. From July 5-12, it increased to 6.8 percent, she said. According to the most recent city data, the 21224 ZIP code*, including Canton, Highlandtown, Patterson Park and other Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods, has a positivity rate of 15.4 percent.

“These decisions were not easy, nor were they made to punish a particular industry,” she said. “Instead, these decisions are rooted in current data and trends being seen in COVID-19 cases in Baltimore City, as well as information about the transmission of the novel coronavirus.”

She also noted that at the start of the pandemic, many older adults and residents in congregate settings were contracting the virus. In the last week, the median age of people testing positive dropped to 35.

Young said these new restrictions will remain in place until the city sees improvements in the number of new cases and deaths, hospital bed usage, and test results.

Speaking specifically about restaurants, Dzirasa said tight and close indoor spaces with poor ventilation can allow the virus to linger in the air for hours at a time.

To make their decision, city officials also looked at the number of bars and restaurants that closed after self-reporting staff members testing positive, Dzirasa said. She also referenced cases where asymptomatic people went to bars and restaurants in other cities and ended up being “super-spreaders” of the virus.

Dzirasa also said the expanded mask requirement will help slow the spread of the disease. She encouraged Baltimoreans to bring multiple masks out in public if they start to perspire in the summer heat and find a face covering bothersome.

“If you are still choosing not to wear face cloth covering, you are directly endangering the lives of your friends, your family, your coworkers or others who you may come across while out,” she said.

Today’s announcement comes one day after Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced new requirements for mask usage. Effective 9 a.m. Thursday, residents age 2 and older must wear them in all indoor public spaces, adding recreational facilities, places of worship and other locations to the state’s list.

He also called on Gov. Larry Hogan to suspend indoor dining across the state, echoing the sentiment local health officials from Maryland’s six largest jurisdictions who on Monday sent a letter to Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips asking for the state to bring back restrictions on restaurants and bars.

Appearing on CSPAN-2 last night, Hogan said it was too soon to add more regulations on local businesses.

“Our goal would be to try to keep business open and the economy unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the 21214 ZIP code had the highest rate of positive tests. It is the 21224 ZIP code. Baltimore Fishbowl regrets the error.

Brandon Weigel

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