County Executive Calvin Ball announced today that, in accordance with the Governor’s recommendations, restaurants may open for customers for outdoor seating only, effective Friday, May 29th at 5:00 p.m. Restaurants and bars that do not currently have outdoor seating will receive information on an expedited process in the coming days to accommodate some operations. Howard County sought and received community input on reopening decisions, speaking with nearly 55 restaurant owners earlier today and 180 members of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. 

“Howard County has an incredible restaurant and bar community, and we want these businesses to be able to reopen safely and effectively,” said Ball. “Outdoor seating is a meaningful first step, and we’re hopeful that if our data trends continue in the right direction we can resume more activities. Our team is working with our Health Department and local businesses to adjust and provide guidance on how to accommodate those without outdoor seating currently. We hope to have some creative solutions in the coming days.”  

“Reopening of our restaurants is an indication of the perseverance and adaptability of Howard County businesses and residents to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County Health Officer. “Continued social distancing practices will be necessary to maintain our successful efforts.”  

“The announcement to allow outside seating is a huge step for our county and restaurants which contribute greatly to our community both economically and as a major employer of people,” said Leonardo McClarty, CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. “This is a major first step in getting our businesses open once again.” 
 
“We are excited that we are able to take this next step for this sector of our small business community,” said Larry Twele, Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO. “Restaurants employ over 11,000 workers in Howard County, so we are encouraged that this will help put many of these employees back to work.” 

Food Consumption Guidance Update for Religious Gatherings 
Since Governor Hogan announced a modified reopening of restaurants yesterday, Howard County revisited all food consumption restrictions. As Howard County moves closer to a full Phase 1 Reopening, also as of 5:00 p.m. Friday, May 29th, food consumption restrictions will be lifted for faith institutions.   

Mary Ellen Russell, from the Archdiocese of Baltimore commented, “We are very pleased to hear that Howard County will be lifting their restrictions on faith institutions regarding food consumption. We are grateful to County Executive Ball and his team for working closely with our community and many others to ensure the health and safety of all while respecting essential elements of our faith traditions. These are unchartered waters for all in leadership, and it is essential that we continue to work together for the common good.” 

Building Blocks for Reopening Progress 
Howard County has continued to make progress on the building blocks outlined by the Governor’s Roadmap to Recovery plan, including securing additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Last night, the Howard County Health Department (HCHD) received a delivery of 14 pallets of PPE from the Maryland Department of Health. HCHD staff is currently conducting an inventory of the supplies. The County currently has enough PPE to provide for nursing homes and county agencies for 30 days and continues to evaluate our PPE goal based upon several factors, including a number of COVID patients and anticipated length of stay. Additionally, according to the Maryland Department of Health, Howard County’s seven day rolling average of positive tests is 8.6%, as of May 27th. 

Regarding other recommendations from the Governor, Howard County is reviewing guidance and providing updates as soon as possible. 

Guidance for Restaurant and Bars for Outdoor Seating 

As of Friday, May 29th at 5:00 p.m., restaurants may reopen for customers for outdoor seating only. Restaurants may also still use curbside pickup. 

Dining Area 

  • The maximum number of customers at any one outdoor table setting shall be 6 people. 
  • Physical distancing of at least 6 feet between outdoor seating tables shall be maintained. Businesses shall design their seating areas to accommodate these minimum specifications. 
  • Customers will not be permitted to stand in the outdoor seating area and must be assigned a table. 
  • While waiting to be seated, appropriate physical distancing guidelines will be maintained. If space does not allow for appropriate physical distancing, customer will be asked to wait in their cars or other off-premise area. 
  • Self-serve buffets will not be allowed. 
  • Display clear signage for proper social distancing procedures and ingress and egress. 
  • If a restaurant is also engaging in curbside pickup, those operations are separate and separate staff are assigned to each operation without crossover. 
  • Seating with temporary plexiglass physical barriers between guests, such as in the bar area, may be utilized without the 6 feet distance requirement between bar stools provided that the physical distancing intent is maintained, and the physical barrier prevents guests from coming into contact with one another. 

Sanitation 

  • Restaurants and bars will adhere to the guidelines and best practices from the CDC, the FDA and the National Restaurant Association COVID-19 Reopening Guidance document. 
  • Handwash station (s) for must be provided in outdoor area for employees to wash their hands (may be a temporary set-up or portable sink). 
  • Hand sanitizer will be available upon entry and exit for guests, or hand washing facilities will be readily available. 
  • Tables and chairs will be sanitized after each use. 
  • Use a menu that can be printed daily and disposable after each use. 
  • Use disposable containers for condiments so there are no shared condiments between different customer groups. 
  • Bathrooms must be frequently cleaned. Manage the number of customers allowed to access the bathroom. There is no congregating while waiting for the bathroom. 

Staff 

  • All employees will complete a health screening prior to their shift in line with the recommended guidance from governor. 
  • Employees interacting with customers will be required to wear face coverings or utilize other protective equipment, such as plexiglass barriers, in keeping with public health guidelines relating to COVID-19. 
  • There should be dedicated staff to handle payments – no interaction with food handling or serving and incorporate the payment location into the egress flow (last stop) of the operation with appropriate distancing. 
  • There should be different employees for busing the tables (should not be the same wait staff handling the food). 
  • Staff should undergo COVID “training” as it pertains to their operations with a signoff that they have completed the training. 
  • If become aware of staff that are confirmed COVID positive, that they contact the Health Department through the warm line (410) 313-6284 so any needed follow-up can occur. 

Residents can also support local Howard County restaurants and bars through carry-out and delivery services, many of which are listed online at HoCo Food Go. 

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Scott E