Baltimore Mayor: You can eat in a restaurant, but only for an hour

The good news for hungry people in Baltimore, Maryland is that some of the restrictions on restaurant dining will be lifted starting tomorrow. The bad news is that the remaining restrictions are still pretty onerous and portions of them make absolutely no sense, even to epidemiologists. The slight lifting of restrictions is coming at a time when Charm City is experiencing a surge in new cases, with a running, seven-day average of nearly 2,000 new cases per day. Overall, however, Baltimore hasn’t been hit all that hard. They’ve seen a total of 36,000 cases and 778 deaths, totals that are considerably lower than many other cities with similar populations. (Fox News, Baltimore)

The new COVID-19 related mandates will take effect Friday at 6 a.m.

David Lichty, owner of the Mount Washington Tavern, calls the mayor’s latest move a step in the right direction, but says for him, it could be too little, too late.

Scott made the announcement Wednesday morning: indoor dining at restaurants will be limited to 25% capacity, outside at 50%.

Lichty says his restaurant will have to remain closed, because 25% capacity indoors is not good enough.

Outdoor dining will be allowed at 50% capacity. This assumes that you’re really interested in dining al fresco in January… in Baltimore. Indoor dining is limited to 25% capacity. As the restaurant owner in the linked article points out, that’s just not feasible for most establishments. You need a minimum number of customers per shift just to reach the break-even point on any given day, and artificially driving that number down by 75% isn’t going to pay the bills.

The strangest parts of Mayor Brandon Scott’s order, however, were a requirement that all customers sign in on a contact tracing sheet before they can be served and a limit of one hour at the table whether you are indoors or outside. We’ve discussed this aspect of contact tracing here before and it’s no less problematic now than it was when the idea was originally floated. Who is going to enforce this order, the wait staff? What if the customer refuses to sign? Will they be ejected? Telling customers who are not ordering alcohol that they have to present their ID is also problematic. And if you don’t do that, what if they just write down a fake name?

Even crazier is the one-hour limit. Even leaving aside the obvious enforcement issues with that part, what medical science guided the decision to impose such a limit? If a contagious individual is in the establishment, once the virus is in the air, all bets are off. It doesn’t matter if you’re there for fifteen minutes or three hours. Since you can’t eat or drink with a mask on, you’re really just taking your chances. Fox News spoke to Dr. Melissa Marx, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. She didn’t understand the time limit, saying, “there’s no magic cut-off that one hour is going to be better or worse.”

Brandon Scott is very new to the office of being the mayor and I don’t envy him having to take over the job in the middle of a pandemic. But if he’s just going to start issuing seemingly random orders relating to controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus, he owes it to the citizens of Baltimore to explain where he’s getting his medical advice from and how he arrived at these decisions. Most of this makes little to no sense. Either keep the restaurants closed or open them up, preferably the latter.