Indoor dining still banned in Prince George's, Montgomery counties after judges' rulings

Indoor dining will stay closed in Prince George's County and Montgomery County after two judges denied the Restaurant Association of Maryland's request to issue a temporary restraining order to permit restaurants to reopen indoor dining on Wednesday.

This is the opposite decision of what came out of Anne Arundel County last week when a judge temporarily overturned an in-person dining ban.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Judge blocks executive order that bans indoor dining in Anne Arundel County

Prince George’s County Judge John Davey said, "While indoor eating at restaurants is but one means of transmitting COVID-19, the County has demonstrated that indoor dining creates an additional risk of spreading the infection because patrons are removing their masks to eat."

Restaurants argued other big retailers and grocery stores do not have controlled environments to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Davey cited health experts in his response and said, "In other business and retail settings, the County has required mask wearing and social distancing to curb the transmission of COVID-19."

The county’s attorney, Rhonda Weaver, stated those places are only open at 25% and are needed for essential items.

Lawyers for the Restaurant Association of Maryland do not believe there is enough evidence directly linking COVID-19 cases to indoor dining.

Dr. Eili Klein testified on behalf of the county. He said, "We are experiencing a COVID-19 surge in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Washington D.C, and every part of Maryland."

He also admitted that Maryland does not have great contact tracing program and it is impossible to determine the exact location of where the infection occurred.

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The owner of Rip’s Country Inn testified and said the restaurant has lost thousands of dollars in revenue since the start of the pandemic.

Ebony Stocks, executive vice president of the Economic Development Corporation, testified on behalf of Prince George’s County during the court hearing. She stated 350 Prince George’s County restaurants have received grants at + or - $25,000.00 with the Restaurant Resiliency Fund.

Davey said in his order he realizes closing restaurants creates hardships.

"Clearly, the money awarded under the Restaurant Resiliency Fund is insignificant in comparison to the losses the restaurants are sustaining," said Davey. "Notwithstanding those facts, 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."

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks acknowledged the same sentiment in her statement following the ruling:

"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. 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."

READ MORE: Montgomery County indoor dining shutting down after council approves order

Late Wednesday, a Montgomery County judge also ruled that the indoor dining ban is upheld following a marathon hearing that ended right before 10 p.m.

"We are pleased with the outcome of today’s ruling. The steps we have taken throughout the pandemic were done out of a grave concern for public health and today’s ruling supported that notion," said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich in a statement. 

Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, shared the following statement with FOX 5 after today's rulings: 

"We are disappointed in today’s rulings denying our request for a temporary restraining order against the executive orders banning indoor dining in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. This decision directly impacts thousands of employees who have lost their jobs and accelerates the number of restaurants who will close permanently."