My name is Hunter Fooks. I am the business owner of Johnny’s Tavern in East New Market. I want to shed some light on Governor (Larry) Hogans restrictions, what it means to business owners to still be in Phase 2, local health department overreach, and our desire to pursue a legal route.

It is hard for me to know where to start because there is so much. Restaurants were allowed to do takeout/ carry-out only in March as we shut down the state in fear of COVID-19 and its unknown actions. We barely survived for 3 months on takeout and the Paycheck Protection Program. In the end of May, Phase 2 was introduced which initially had indoor seating for restaurants included but at last minute Hogan moved the “goal posts” and excluded us. Two weeks go by and finally we got the announcement to reopen but only at 50% of the fire marshal’s capacity.

Our busy season at Johnny’s Tavern is the cold “winter” months. Due to this shut down in March, we missed some of our most profitable months including canceling our beloved Car Show, which would have made our 6th anniversary. I calculated a 30% loss of gross income for the year due to the 3 months of not being able to eat indoors. Gov. Hogan has mentioned multiple times now about how our economy is open at 98%. But wait, he is forgetting the 50% capacity of persons, every other booth closed for social distancing as well as 6 feet apart at the bar. By my math, 98% of businesses open at 50% capacity is only 49%. He is painting a false picture to his Maryland residents who are already upset and confused about the restrictions. The real question is, what is the goal for moving to Phase 3? Hogan has not spoken about this and for all we know there is no goal because he always changed his word with going to Phase 2.

Gov. Hogan has given all the power to enforce his Executive Orders (not laws) to the local Health Departments to enforce on restaurants and small businesses who are already struggling. We personally have been checked twice from people calling in to complain about bogus noncompliance issues. The Health Departments also can use the excuse “oh someone called into the state hotline number so we are here to check you.” I have asked the Health Officer for the information on my accuser and was given “it is against the law to give you that information” response. Restaurants have our hands tied with overreach by health departments with no checks and balances in place. We have struggled enough!

Face masks are mandated by the governor. Every restaurant server wears one. That is a given. I asked my workers compensation insurance if we were covered if a employee were to pass out from wearing a mask. The answer was “we examine on a case by case basis and this would be new for us.” This really means that we are gambling with our coverage. I have wrote a letter and sent certified mail to Dorchester Health Department dated 8/5 with no response. I was asking for exemption of the masks for certain employees as many have complained of lightheaded and dizziness.

Even with Phase 3 opening, restaurants, bars and taverns still continue to be discriminated against and suffer. I hope this helps shed some light on the mess we are dealing with from overreach from our government with little to no leadership from a business owners point of view. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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