Frederick County will follow the governor's decision to lift capacity restrictions on several businesses, but the county's Board of Health's regulations will remain.
During a news conference Thursday, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) went through much of Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order, which still requires social distancing between tables in restaurants and bars, retail establishments and other similar businesses but allows them to return to 100 percent capacity.
Because of the distancing requirements, it's likely residents won't see much of a difference at many businesses, Gardner said. Some restrictions, however, remain in place, thanks to the Board of Health, which consists of the county executive and County Council. County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer is the executive officer and secretary for that board.
The Board of Health's order from November includes 50 percent capacity limits on wedding venues, 25 percent capacity at fitness centers, gyms, self-defense schools and similar businesses and a 25-person gathering limit on indoor and outdoor social gatherings, which include parties, cookouts, parades, celebrations, festivals, conventions and fundraisers but not "normal business operations."
Brookmyer said it's possible the Board of Health could meet in the weeks ahead to review these restrictions. A majority vote is required to make any changes.
Brookmyer cited two recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for keeping gyms at a lower capacity. One published earlier this month cites a study from the Chicago Department of Public Health, where 68 percent of 81 gym-goers at one facility from Aug. 24–Sept. 1 got COVID-19.
Some gym and fitness center owners were fine with Gardner's decision Thursday, including Amy DiPasquale, owner of Mad Fitness in Frederick.
DiPasquale noted the occupancy limit at her gym is already in the hundreds and capacity rarely hit 50 percent in non-COVID times.
The No. 1 focus is making sure the gym is well-ventilated and mask wearing is adhered to, she added.
"For us, it's going to be business as usual," DiPasquale said.
Brett Kraimer, owner of CycleFit, a cycling studio in Frederick, agreed. Keeping customers safe is the top priority, he said.
"It doesn’t matter how much they open up, we’re going to keep the reduced capacity, we’re going to keep our members happy and healthy ... we’re in this thing for the long haul," Kraimer said.
Gardner highlighted hospitalization numbers and deaths Thursday. Currently, 31 people in Frederick are hospitalized with the coronavirus, including five in the intensive care unit.
More than 100 people have died since Christmas after being exposed to the coronavirus, county data shows. One person died in the past 24 hours, bringing the county death toll to 278 people.
Near the end of Thursday's news conference, Gardner pleaded with county residents to continue to wear their masks, social distance and frequently wash their hands.
"While we are making progress with improved health metrics and our vaccination efforts, our hospitalizations and our deaths remain higher than we would like them to be," Gardner said. "The virus is still with us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We must all be smart and do our part to contain the spread of the virus."