Gardner lifts executive order on Frederick County restaurants and bars

Greg Swatek and Erika Riley, The Frederick News-Post, Md.
·4 min read

Feb. 23—Restaurants and bars across Frederick County will be able to return to their normal hours of business and serve alcohol past 10 p.m. after an executive order restricting them expired Monday.

The order was lifted by County Executive Jan Gardner (D), who cited improving coronavirus metrics to justify her decision.

"While Frederick County has made progress with vaccinations and seen improvement in the trend of new cases, positivity rates, and cases per 100,000 population, which provide a sense of optimism, the virus is still with us," Gardner said in a prepared statement. "Precautions and health directives need to continue to be followed."

Restaurants and bars still must abide by Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order for food establishments that require them to operate at no more than 50 percent capacity and maintain 6 feet of distance between tables with no more than six allowed to sit at a table. All patrons must wear masks except when they are eating and drinking, and there is no congregating at the bar.

Still, the lifting of the executive order was welcome news for restaurants and bars that had been operating under it since Nov. 17. Hogan (R) had lifted parts of the order on Jan. 28, which allowed restaurants and bars to stay open past 10 p.m. But Gardner left that restriction in place until Feb. 4 in the county when she allowed them to stay open past 10 p.m. but not serve alcohol after that hour.

Monday's decision by Gardner not to renew the executive order removes that restriction.

Wade Newman, owner of Shuckin' Shack on South Market Street, said much of the bar and restaurant's revenue comes from late nights. The restaurant will start staying open until midnight this week.

"I think that's fantastic. We had closed at 10 for a while, and they allowed us to stay open til midnight, but it's just too much hassle at that point," Newman said. "There's no point in staying open if you can't serve alcohol."

Brewer's Alley on North Market Street is also planning on staying open later again, but management has not yet determined set hours.

Manager Justin Gosnell said the previous order was confusing, especially since many customers didn't seem to know about it.

"It's just kind of hard to tell a guest that they can stay here til 11:30 but we can't serve past 10 o'clock," he said.

Gardner's announcement about the order's expiration did not arrive until almost 6 p.m. Monday, several hours after it officially expired. So most businesses were going to have to wait until Tuesday before any changes could be implemented.

At her weekly public information briefing last Thursday, Gardner said that a high number of coronavirus patients at Frederick Health Hospital made it unclear if she was going to allow the executive order to expire.

But the number of virus-related hospitalizations in the county dropped by almost 10 over the past four days, which led Gardner to lift the order.

Gardner also said last Thursday that she would revisit an executive order limiting indoor recreational activities once hospitalization numbers came down. No decision has been announced on that yet.

There were 24 new COVID-19 infections reported in the county Monday, which is the fewest number since Oct. 27. That brings the overall number of confirmed cases in the county to 16,715.

Across Maryland, there were 611 new infections and 17 virus-related deaths reported, although none of the deaths occurred in Frederick County.

Meanwhile, Maryland's rolling seven-day positivity rate dropped below 4 percent for the first time since Nov. 2. It now stands at 3.91 percent.

In addition, nearly 1.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Maryland, and the state is now averaging more than 27,000 shots per day.

"While we wait on the federal government to get us more vaccines, this is another encouraging indication that we are making real progress against this deadly pandemic," Hogan said in a prepared statement. "While fewer Marylanders are becoming seriously ill, we need to keep taking precautions so that we can remain on the road to recovery."

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek