COVID-19 alert

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday, Jan. 28 that restaurants and bars would no longer have to close at 10 p.m., as the state’s coronavirus metrics improve and a post-holiday rise in infections wanes.

The governor’s announcement — which took effect Monday, Feb. 1 — spurred a sigh of relief among business owners and workers who have called the restriction “arbitrary” and said the ban on those nighttime hours has hurt them more than it helped slow the spread.

Hogan issued the restriction in mid-November citing concerns about coronavirus cases and positivity rates spiking across Maryland. He said Jan. 28 that his lifting the order comes in response to “several weeks of improving COVID-19 metrics.”

“With our data trends showing continued improvement, the holiday surges behind us, and the increasing speed of vaccinations, we are now able to take this step,” Hogan said of the announcement in a statement.

Del. Johnny Mautz, who represents Talbot County and owns Carpenter Street Saloon in St. Michaels, had criticized the curfew since it was implemented.

Mautz said the rule “sounded like it was keeping people safe,” but it “really wasn’t changing the behavior or exposure from one person to the next.”

The time restriction on top of the 50% capacity limits that are still in place for restaurants, he said, was causing a “significant reduction in income” for food and beverage services businesses and their employees.

Mautz’s saloon, which opened in the 1970s, has suffered an 80% loss in revenue since the pandemic first drove state and local leaders to shutter and stifle restaurant and bar operations in March for health safety concerns.

Austin Smale, general manager at Limoncello Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar in St. Michaels, said in an interview Thursday he looked at the 10 p.m. curfew as “just another hurdle for the restaurant industry to manage and maneuver once again.”

Smale said he felt like restaurants and bars were being painted as “hotspots” for COVID-19 and because of this, even during operating hours that were not cut off, they’ve suffered a loss of business.

”It’s been difficult,” he said. “We try to stay optimistic and just keep doing what we can. We’ve seen restaurants going above and beyond to stay sanitary and follow the proper guidelines.”

While Hogan lifted the 10 p.m. curfew, restaurants and bars still face challenges as they continue to navigate winter and the ongoing pandemic.

Maryland reported 2,190 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. Talbot County reported 32 new infections and has 207 active cases, according to county data.

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