The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on Maryland’s restaurant industry and many establishments may soon close their doors for good if they do not receive substantial financial assistance from the government, according to the president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

“No one anticipated this pandemic going on for as long as it has. And certainly, no one anticipated the restrictions on restaurants to go on for as long as they have. Restaurants across the state have run out of their savings and their reserves. They’ve already used up their first round of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) [loans] months ago. So they’re put in a very difficult position right now to try to just hang on and survive,” Marshall Weston told MarylandReporter.com on Monday.

A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 45% of Maryland restaurant operators said their establishments would likely go under within the next six months if Congress does not approve another round of economic aid. That figure is slightly higher than the national average, which is 37%.

Weston illustrated what the survey’s findings mean for Maryland’s restaurants.

“Prior to this pandemic, there were 11,000 restaurants in the state of Maryland. So, to think about 45% closing permanently, that’s over 4,000 restaurants. And we are talking about tens of thousands of employees that will no longer have a job.”

The $900 billion stimulus package Congress is expected to pass today does not appear to provide specific aid to restaurants. However, the legislation does make independent restaurants eligible for expanded PPP loans. The legislation provides those who made less than $99,000 in 2019 with a one-time $600 stimulus payment and it provides $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits to eligible recipients.

Weston said he is disappointed that the stimulus package does not provide specific aid for restaurants.

“On first glance, there is nothing specific for restaurants. That is disappointing considering we are one of the most severely impacted industries in the nation right now. However, it does appear that there’s another round of PPP that’s going to be made available. Our assumption is that restaurants will be eligible for that.”

Maryland’s bars and restaurants are limited to 50% capacity for indoor dining per executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan. However, local jurisdictions are allowed to limit capacity below that percentage. And some have gone even further by banning or severely limiting in-person dining.

Baltimore City banned both indoor and outdoor dining as of December 11. Montgomery County banned indoor dining and restricted the hours for outdoor dining as of December 15. Prince George’s County banned indoor dining as of December 16. Anne Arundel County banned indoor dining earlier this month but a judge blocked County Executive Steuart Pittman’s order from taking effect pending a hearing.

Weston provided an update on the suits.

“In Anne Arundel County there will be a full hearing on Dec. 28…In Baltimore City, we filed for the temporary restraining order on Friday and we have not heard anything yet. In Prince George’s County, we have heard that there will be a hearing on Wednesday of this week. And there will also be a hearing on Wednesday for Montgomery County.”

Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel), who sits on the House Health and Government Operations Committee, said is he is “very optimistic” that restaurant owners will ultimately prevail in the case filed in his jurisdiction.

Chisholm added: “I think that Judge [William] Mulford [II] is a very fair judge. “He understands constitutional issues. He understands that it’s really going to be left to the county to prove an imminent danger to the public for these restaurants to be open.”

Pittman defended his decision to ban indoor dining in a Capital Gazette Op-Ed that ran on Sunday.

“It’s the social gatherings and dining in public places today that generate the positive cases, and eventually, the hospitalizations and deaths, that we must prevent in late January and February…It’s too late for political games. It’s too late for drawn-out legal battles. And this is no time to complain about what should have been done. I and each and every one of us must decide what we can do now, to 1) slow the spread of this virus, and 2) provide assistance to the people who are suffering the economic consequences of this battle.”

The Hogan administration has provided $50 million in funds to help the state’s restaurant industry to combat the impact of COVID-19.

There are 253,073 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Monday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 5,302 people in Maryland have died from the virus. Maryland’s positivity rate is at 7.72%, which is well above the CDC recommended guidelines for containment. Maryland has conducted more than 5.3 million COVID-19 tests.

This article originally appeared on MarylandReporter.com on December 21, 2020, and is republished with permission.


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