Restaurant owners frustrated with the state’s continued banning of outdoor seating at eateries gathered Tuesday evening in Sandgates to discuss with local leaders how to pressure the state to relax those restrictions.
“We want, at least, outside seating for bars and restaurants,” Seabreeze Restaurant and Tiki Bar owner Betty Ann Quade said at the meeting in the currently unused portion of the restaurant’s dining area.
Seabreeze was visited by the sheriff’s office, Quade said, over the weekend when the restaurant reopened its tiki bar area for take out orders, and came to terms with compliance as long as customers did not eat at the restaurant’s picnic tables.
“What is the difference in somebody coming to my restaurant, getting their food to go, sitting at that table outside, and eating it with two or three people in their family, which we can obviously separate; or going to the park, and setting up where there’s 100 people running around the park around them?” Quade asked.
Del. Matt Morgan (R) told restaurant owners he disagreed with the state’s designation of nonessential and essential businesses.
“if you can adhere to CDC guidelines, these masks, gloves, sanitizing and everything, you should be allowed to open,” he said.
Taking his mask off at the start of the meeting, Morgan said he had been antibody tested for COVID-19 and tested positive.
“I’ve already had this,” he said.
Morgan said a “catastrophic health event” predicted earlier this year by experts had not happened, and the state is in a “limbo” of figuring out how to return to normalcy, also saying most deaths were concentrated at older ages and at nursing homes.
“When you tell me there’s hardly any deaths under the age of 60, I mean, those are your workers, those are the people in the school, you can start making some logical decisions based on that.”
The St. Mary’s County Health Department reported 353 cases of COVID-19 in the county as of Thursday morning, as well as 12 deaths. Maryland has reported more than 43,500 cases in the state and 2,045 deaths, as of May 21.
County Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) told restaurant owners to tell their story to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) through their local delegation, offering to send messages up the chain from the county commissioners’ office.
“I think you’re able to do the social distancing, wear a mask, whatever you have to do to keep people safe that Walmart can do, Target can do, Lowe’s can do,” he said.
Speaking to the crowd of restaurant owners, Hewitt said county Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster had told him not to go to the event Tuesday evening.
“I’m 67, I’ve got heart disease. Dr. Brewster called me when I was in the parking lot, said, ‘Really suggest you don’t go,’” Hewitt said, adding later in the meeting she had told him, “You going down there, you could create a hotspot.”
Hewitt disagreed at former Republican delegate Deb Rey’s suggestion that county officials “buck the governor” and reopen, disregarding Hogan’s orders, which allow county officials leeway only in opening less than state guidelines, a path which several other Maryland counties took after the governor’s announcement pushing the state into the first phase of his Roadmap to Recovery.
“What are we relying on the commissioners for? They haven’t told us they’re willing to buck the governor and willing to open up,” Rey asked at the meeting.
“We got to be careful. We got to be cautious,” Hewitt said. “We don’t want to think we can just run rough shod around here and do whatever we want, spikes go up, people die, people get sick, and we’re all supposed to say ‘Oh, well. Too bad.’ We want do it respectfully.”
Morgan and Hewitt both told business owners to write the governor’s office and ask for the metrics being used to make decisions, as no metrics have been announced for moving to the second phase, and for owners to tell their personal business woes.
“The squeaky wheel gets the oil here,“ Morgan said.
Both also said Hogan should allow counties to make reopening decisions for themselves.
“One size does not fit all,” Hewitt said.