Montgomery County executive proposes 1-hour indoor dining limit

The newly proposed executive order that Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich submitted to the county council on Tuesday includes the resume to 25% max capacity on indoor dining, a 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales and consumption, and in what appears to be a new measure for the county, a one-hour limit to indoor dining.

The executive order will need to go before the Montgomery County Council for approval next week.

READ MORE: FOX 5 gets more answers on Montgomery County’s continued indoor dining ban

Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the region, according to the Restaurant Association of Maryland, to still have an indoor dining ban in place.

In a one-on-one interview with FOX 5 on Monday, the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security director said while speaking to the dining closure decisions and its economic impact, that the county’s leaders have erred more on the side of public health concerns than economics because they believe there is no strong economy while the virus is running rampant throughout communities.

"…we’ve held out more than others because our County Executive is more willing to listen to the public health guidance than … the economic challenges that are posed by it. But it’s still -  it won’t -  if we open-up next week, it won’t be safe either," said Dr. Stoddard.

The director, who told FOX 5 COVID cases among restaurant workers dropped 40-60% ever since the dining ban went in place, affirmed at a Tuesday Montgomery County Council hearing, he still does not believe indoor dining is safe, even if the council votes to approve the reopening for next week.

FOX 5 has asked the county’s Department of Health for the restaurant worker data. A Montgomery County Public Information Act request for this information was also made.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Montgomery County officials insistent on indoor dining ban

Before the new executive order was submitted, at least one council member already announced he would vote against it.

"I just don’t know why you would send any message, which is what we would be doing if we approve 25% indoor dining allowance, that that’s okay," said Councilmember Will Jawando, while referencing a recent NFL-CDC report and its findings on transmission distances. He also made the comment in reference to the state of COVID in the county (two new cases of the South African variant were announce Tuesday) as the county works on getting teachers vaccinated and back to school.

Also in the council meeting today, we heard concerns of restoring indoor dining in time for the Super Bowl and how that could be a super spreader situation.

"It’s not fair to make restaurants the poster boys for this thing. There is a variant. It is scary. Every other jurisdiction East of Denver has opened back up again, safely," said Mark Bucher of Medium Rare in Bethesda. Bucher says more needs to be done to financially assist these businesses if the county or state is going to enforce restrictions on private businesses.  

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FOX 5 also spoke with a restaurant manager who says one of the reasons the county may be talking reopening now is because also on the table next week is a hearing set for February 11. This is the Restaurant Association lawsuit against the county involving dozens of area county restaurants.

Rob Blackwood, the General Manager of Brickside in Bethesda, says the county would have to show proof for their closure decisions if a lawsuit went forward.

"I think this is, like I said, a knee-jerk reaction to the suit that’s coming up … I mean, we still have a lot more questions that need to be answered that nobody has been willing to answer," Blackwood said.

Chef Geoff Tracy, owner of Lia’s Restaurant in Chevy Chase, told FOX 5, "They also have to explain why they are thinking differently than every other jurisdiction pretty much in the United States because there’s nothing happening in Montgomery County that’s more drastic in regards to Covid infections or deaths than in neighboring Washington D.C. or places in Northern Virginia that do have limited, socially distanced indoor dining."

If the county council votes to approve the executive order, we’re told the hearing will likely be canceled.

To the Super Bowl comment – many of the restaurant owners who spoke with FOX 5 pointed to house parties, saying those will likely still happen while restaurants have to abide by restrictions and/or closures.  

Several restaurant workers also said a one-hour time limit to indoor dining will be difficult to enforce.

Blackwood told FOX 5 he would have preferred an hour-and-a-half. Baltimore is the other area jurisdiction limited to one-hour indoor dining.