Montgomery County officials insistent on indoor dining ban

Dozens of restaurant and bar owners and operators in Montgomery County are continuing to express their frustrations about staying closed for indoor dining. 

They’re asking county officials why they aren’t moving forward with easing up on indoor restrictions similar to some other surrounding counties, which are allowing 25 and 50 percent indoor dining capacity to resume by this Friday.

READ MORE: Anne Arundel County restaurant capacity to expand on Friday, exec says

That includes Frederick, Prince George’s, and Anne Arundel counties. The District loosened its indoor dining ban to 25 percent last Friday.

Eric Rose, general manager of Quincy’s Bar and Grille in Potomac told FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan on Tuesday that he doesn’t understand how so many places such as salons, gyms, and grocery stores are allowing people to be inside even at capacity, yet the same doesn’t apply to indoor dining.

"They were packed during the holidays," remarked Rose. "It was like nothing had ever changed. But you can’t go into a restaurant where we are spraying and we are cleaning? I don’t think the contact tracing was correct in saying that it was only the restaurants that are causing the issues."

READ MORE: Prince George’s County restoring indoor dining at 25% on Friday

"It is grossly unfair that employees and business owners have their livelihoods in the hands of our elected officials who can’t be very forthcoming with the metrics they’re going to use," said Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

Ayesha also spoke with Montgomery County Council president Tom Hucker and Dr. Earl Stoddard Tuesday.

They both said that right now, they want to focus on trying to reopen schools for in-person learning and that they would like to ease up on the indoor dining ban as well, but they want to do that simultaneously with the reopening of schools.

READ MORE: DC restaurants can reopen for indoor dining at limited capacity Friday, mayor says

Ayesha asked Stoddard how the reopening of schools and lifting of indoor dining ban could align at the same time when schools, as previously announced, are expected to open in March. Stoddard said that the county would not expect schools to physically open the same time that indoor dining actually starts, but that they want to be at a place with viral transmission where both can be committed to open concurrently.

"If we think it’s safe for kids to go back to school then presumably it’s also safe enough to have some level of indoor dining," said Stoddard. "We would like for there to be synergy around that decision as opposed to one necessarily opening before the other whether it’s restaurants or schools."

Stoddard went on to explain that back in the summer, the county reopened too quickly and county health officials began noticing the slow climb up in the numbers.

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He added that typically throughout this past summer and into the early fall seasons, they noticed that restaurant workers were representing around 10 percent of the spike in positive cases but since the ban, that number has dropped to four to six percent which is about 40 to 60 people on a weekly basis. 

Stoddard confirmed that the county has no plans to resume indoor dining by this Friday. He said that the county will review the downward trend in numbers in about a week or two, to decide on when to resume indoor consumption within restaurants and bars.