ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Most Maryland restaurants increased their indoor dining to 75% Monday at 5 p.m. as fall approaches and outdoor dining becomes less feasible.

Still, restaurants are feeling the pinch.

Effective at 5 p.m. on Monday, September 21, capacity for indoor dining at restaurants was allowed to increase from 50 to 75 percent with appropriate distancing and following public health requirements consistent with CDC, FDA and National Restaurant Association guidelines.

Scott Panian has run Amicci’s Restaurant in Little Italy for almost three decades. His business is down 59 percent since March.
While he is relying on takeout, that isn’t making up the difference.

“I feel like I opened a new restaurant again, and I’m trying to build it back one customer at a time,” he told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “Everybody is in a different situation financially. My worry is I’ll run out of will before I run out of money. It’s just become a tough mental grind.”

Anne Arundel County, Frederick County and Baltimore City will not be increasing capacity, with the city remaining at 50 percent.

Panian said it doesn’t matter; people are just not coming in like they were before the pandemic.

“The government isn’t holding me back right now. I’m allowed to open. It’s a matter of getting customers back in right now and feeling safe,” he said.

At the Hotel Revival in Mount Vernon, where Topside Restaurant has sweeping views of the city, General Manager Donte Johnson believes increasing capacity will make a difference.

“You’ve got to have a level of trust in your business leaders to operate safely and know that we’re not going to put anybody’s health and safety at risk,” Johnson said.

The governor’s office said they’re able to loosen restrictions because the positivity rate is at its lowest level since March: 2.75 percent.

But Johns Hopkins University recorded Maryland’s positivity at 5.5 percent. That is above the recommended threshold for relaxing restrictions.

Hopkins, unlike the state, does not count multiple tests for the same person.

CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group believes the state is moving too fast. The state director cited a CDC study showing people who tested positive are twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant.

“Where the federal government has failed, our state and local leaders have been forced to pick up the slack. Governor Hogan has in some cases done an incredible job and in some cases fallen short. I think this is a wrong decision,” said Maryland PIRG’s Emily Scarr.

She said restaurant workers are at some of the highest risk: “To be serving people all day—people who have their masks off—and to be forced into that position that in order to work they have to put themselves at risk is pretty unacceptable.”

Baltimore County made the announcement that it will allow increased capacity just hours before the governor’s relaxed order went into effect.

“In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to strictly enforce state and local ordinances—any businesses found to be violating face-covering or social distancing mandates will be held accountable,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski said in a statement.

The loosening of restrictions also comes during Maryland Restaurant Week, which began Friday and will run through Sept. 27.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

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