PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Indoor dining will continue to be banned in Prince George's County for the month of January, as COVID-19 health metrics continue to show an alarming spike in cases.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the extension Thursday after conferring with health officials, who said the county's positivity rate has stayed above 10% for nearly two weeks and the daily case rate has stayed at “critical level” since Nov. 9.
“Much to our dismay, COVID-19 cases continue to rise and our metrics show that we need to extend measures previously implemented to minimize the spread of this virus,” Alsobrooks said. “While this is a difficult decision, we are continuing to do everything we can to support our restaurants during these difficult times, including allocating additional funding to our Restaurant Resiliency Fund. We need all Prince Georgians to continue doing their part to slow the spread of this virus, including wearing a mask, limiting travel, and avoiding gatherings.”
The initial ban was slated to expire Jan. 16, but will now remain in effect until at least Jan. 29. Outdoor dining will continue to be limited to 50% capacity, and restaurants may continue to offer takeout meals and curbside service.
The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) filed a motion in December to overturn the ban on indoor dining.
"Gov. Hogan has indicated there is no data or evidence that warrants closing of indoor dining," Marshall Weston Jr., president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said. "If indeed restaurants were a source of COVID we would have seen significant increases while restaurants were open at 75% capacity, yet that did not happen."
But Judge John Davey ruled in favor of the ban, saying that the removal of masks during meals proves problematic for containing COVID.
"The Court believes that the County Executive has articulated a legitimate government interest to save lives and maintain sufficient hospital beds to care for Prince George's County citizens," Davey wrote in his ruling. "While indoor eating at restaurants is but one means of transmitting COVID-19, the County has demonstrated that indoor eating creates an additional risk of spreading the infection because patrons are removing their masks to eat."
Montgomery County also banned all indoor dining until further notice, allowing outdoor dining to continue during restricted hours (6 a.m. -10 p.m.).
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that two cases of the variant virus had been identified in Anne Arundel County. The variant is more contagious, but not more likely to cause severe symptoms, according to health experts.
The state reported 2,516 new cases and 37 new deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday. Maryland is averaging nearly 40% more cases each day than two weeks ago. As of Wednesday, 90% of staffed beds in Maryland are now in use. Of those, 20% are taken up by acute coronavirus patients and another 6% by coronavirus ICU patients. That means 1-in-4 patients in Maryland hospitals are now positive for the coronavirus.