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Judges uphold indoor dining ban in Montgomery, Prince George's counties

The Maryland Restaurant Association sued Montgomery and Prince George's counties, saying there's no proof linking the spread of COVID-19 to restaurants.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Judges in Montgomery and Prince George's counties have ruled in favor of a temporary ban on indoor dining in both counties, denying a motion filed by the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) to overturn the bans. 

In Prince George's County, which has suspended indoor dining through Jan. 16 and restricted outdoor dining at 50% capacity, Judge John Davey said 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."

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks urged Prince Georgians to continue to support local businesses during the pandemic by taking advantage of takeout and curbside service. 

“While closing indoor dining gives me no pleasure, as County Executive I have had to take difficult actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," Alsobrooks said. "This has been an unforeseen and unprecedented time, and I will continue to take all steps possible to support our restaurant community, while preserving the health and wellbeing of Prince Georgians.”

RELATED: Maryland restaurants sue to keep indoor dining open for the holidays

Montgomery County has banned all indoor dining until further notice, allowing outdoor dining to continue during restricted hours (6 a.m. -10 p.m.). 

“The county council, the county executive are trying to protect this community from death and from the virus,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge James A. Bonifant said. “I believe that standard is clear, and I believe that they are doing the best they can.”  

The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) filed for temporary restraining orders and injunctions to reopen indoor dining in Montgomery and Prince George's counties as well as Baltimore City on Dec. 18.

"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."

Courts in Anne Arundel County ruled in favor of allowing indoor dining. On Dec. 16, a modified executive order restricted all indoor dining at Anne Arundel County restaurants and reduced outdoor dining to 50% capacity. A judge, however, granted an extension on indoor dining for 12 days, allowing restaurants to continue indoor dining at 25% capacity and outdoors at 50% capacity until Dec. 28.          

"Although closing restaurants on a statewide or regional basis would be a more effective measure to combat COVID-19, the County Executive may only govern activities in Prince George's County," Davey wrote.

According to a survey from the National Restaurant Association, 45% of Maryland restaurant operators said they will close permanently in the next 6 months unless they receive a significant financial relief package from the government. 

Maryland has now averaged more than 40 deaths a day from the virus for nine days straight. In four days the state added 141 new COVID-19 patients to hospital beds, bringing the total statewide to 1,776 Marylanders hospitalized with the virus; more than 400 of those patients are currently in the ICU.

RELATED: Mayor Bowser: DC indoor-dining ban goes into effect Wednesday at 10 p.m.

RELATED: Montgomery County bans indoor dining, limits capacity in stores

RELATED: Indoor dining in Prince George's County banned for a month; retail and casino capacity also limited

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