Maryland officials in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are further relaxing coronavirus restrictions on businesses this week amid encouraging public health trends.
Prince George’s County lifted all capacity and distancing restrictions for all indoor and outdoor venues on Monday at 5 p.m. However, masks are still mandated for indoor venues, public transportation and crowded outdoor venues such as concerts and ticketed sporting events for county residents.
Restaurateurs welcomed the news.
“Getting back to a sense of normalcy is comforting,” said Jason Berry, founder of KNEAD Hospitality + Design, which owns Succotash National Harbor. “But we haven’t been given concrete information about the details surrounding the lifted restrictions.”
He said Succotash, a waterfront eatery with a large patio, was luckier than some restaurants, but “just like everyone else in the restaurant and hospitality industry, we were hit hard … We were closed and doing takeout only for four months, then we opened at partial capacity, and have been at partial capacity, up until this point.”
Prince George’s is easing restrictions after a rapid decline in COVID-19 metrics and an increase in vaccination rates, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks tweeted Monday.
The county will re-evaluate mask requirements depending on COVID-19 health trends and vaccination rates of residents.
Over the last week, the positivity rate for COVID-19 cases dropped from 4% to 3%, according to a Friday update from Ms. Alsobrooks. The average daily case rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents also declined from 14.2 to 8.7 in five days. Weekly deaths have also dropped, data shows.
“At my church, I’m a nurse and I would do homegoings and I’m telling you, it was sad. So many people were dying. Now it’s not as much,” Cynthia Kelly-Foxwell, a Prince George’s County resident told The Washington Times on Monday. “I think we are at a point where we can ease up a little bit, but like I said to me, it’s an individual thing. I don’t want to tell people what to do. Like I said, closer things like the movies and stuff, I will still wear my mask.”
The 68-year-old, who lives in Oxon Hill, said she has a liver problem that makes her immunocompromised and, therefore, wants to take extra precautions to protect herself although she has been vaccinated.
More than 660,300 county residents are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, about 70% of Prince George’s population.
Neighboring Montgomery County also relaxed more coronavirus restrictions Monday, moving to its second phase of reopening.
County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz on Monday said that about 54% of residents have now received all their COVID-19 shots, partially thanks to a high turnout of adolescents getting vaccinated.
Most businesses, restaurants and religious facilities can now operate at 75% capacity. Indoor gathering limits increased to 250 people while outdoors has no restrictions. The indoor and outdoor gathering limits also apply to summer camps.
Convention and banquet facilities can now operate at 50%. Camps are also allowed to have campers from outside the Washington metro area.
On May 28, the county is expected to enter its third phase of reopening and lift all distancing and capacity limits on businesses, Mr. Albornoz said.
“It’s because of the sacrifices of our residents, it’s because of the really strong collaboration and partnerships between our private sector and public sector, we’re finally at a point where we really have turned the corner and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mr. Albornoz.
“And it has been a very long and dark tunnel. It’s been tragic and disorienting and exhausting and very frustrating for so many of our residents … but the great news is that there are much better days ahead.”
He said while more than 50% of county residents have received all their required COVID-19 shots, they are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks later, which is why the county is waiting until the end of the month to lift all limits on businesses.
As of Monday, 60% of Montgomery County residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Council President Tom Hucker tweeted, citing a health department memo. More than 614,000 county residents have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, health data shows.
The seven-day average daily rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents was 3.7 as of Monday, a drop from 4.7 on May 7. The average test positivity rate over the last 14 days for Montgomery County was 1.6% as of Sunday.
On Saturday, the statewide mask mandate for Maryland was lifted along with all capacity limits and restrictions on indoor and outdoor venues. However, face coverings are still required for public transportation and in schools, child-care and health-care settings.
The Maryland Department of Health advises that nonvaccinated individuals older than 2 years continue to wear face coverings indoors and outdoors where they cannot physically distance themselves. Private businesses and workplaces can institute their own policies while local jurisdictions have the power to implement their own guidance as well.
If health metrics start trending in a negative direction, Montgomery and Prince George’s County officials warn that restrictions may have to be reinstated.