BETHESDA, Md. — Good news for some businesses in Montgomery County: Starting Friday, restaurants, gyms, and retail stores can now increase their capacity from 25% to 50%. Theaters, social clubs, and amusement parks in the county can open at 25% capacity.
These changes come as COVID-19 cases in the county are on the rise.
On Thursday, the county reported 161 cases -- the highest they’ve seen since the first week of February.
Restaurant owners in Bethesda said the streetery has helped keep their doors open during the pandemic, but getting more people inside of their restaurants is the ultimate goal.
The increased capacity may get them one step closer, but Terry Cullen, general manager of Tommy Joe's says it’s still not enough.
"Our business is off 65% and, you know, we are probably the biggest place in Bethesda," Cullen said.
With walls covered in social distancing signs and shields separating workers from customers at the bar, Cullen said Tommy Joe's has been ready to welcome more customers for weeks. But with COVID cases on the rise in Montgomery County, he is focused on keeping his staff safe.
"My workers need to get vaccinated," Cullen said. "Restaurants are like an afterthought in this county a little bit. People that deliver food are getting vaccination, but my people aren’t getting vaccinated."
The decision to allow restaurants to increase their capacity from 25% to 50% was made two weeks ago by Montgomery County Council.
At that time, COVID cases in the county were just starting to increase.
Now with cases the highest they've been in weeks, Montgomery County At- Large Councilmember Will Jawando said the council is open to reducing capacity if cases don’t go down.
"We need to keep those numbers down [and] keep the variants under control," Jawando said. "If we continue to see the rise that we've seen over the next week, we might have to come back and roll this back."
But Cullen said that the last thing restaurant owners want. He says he’s willing to help however he can.
"It's frustrating for everybody, but I just want to see everybody gets safe," he said before offering to open up a vaccination site inside Tommy Joe's. "I’ll be happy to set up a vaccination station in this restaurant for all of the restaurant workers. Let's just get it done."
And changes for youth sports in Montgomery county today.
During a County Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to allow spectators at youth sporting events. Starting April 2, each athlete will be allowed two spectators with a 250 person limit.
Jawando said the council will be monitoring case numbers every day and if the numbers continue to rise, they may reverse these changes as well.